Oakwood Kidney Institute
Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is
Hemodialysis: A treatment Method for Kidney Failure
Hemodialysis is the most common method used to treat advanced and permanent kidney failure. Since the 1960s, when hemodialysis first became a practical treatment for kidney failure, we've learned much about how to make hemodialysis treatments more effective and minimize side effects. But even with better procedures and equipment, hemodialysis is still a complicated and inconvenient therapy that requires a coordinated effort from your whole health care team, including your nephrologist, dialysis nurse, dialysis technician, dietitian, and social worker. But the most important members of your health care team are you and your family. By learning about your treatment, you can work with your health care team to give yourself the best possible results, and you can lead a full, active life.
When Your Kidneys Fail
Healthy kidneys clean your blood by removing excess fluid, minerals, and wastes. They also make hormones that keep your bones strong and your blood healthy. When your kidneys fail, harmful wastes build up in your body, your blood pressure may rise, and your body may retain excess fluid and not make enough red blood cells. When this happens, you need treatment to replace the work of your failed kidneys.
How Hemodialysis Works
In hemodialysis, your blood is allowed to flow, a few ounces at a time, through a machine with a special filter that removes wastes and extra fluids. The clean blood is then returned to your body. Removing the harmful wastes and extra salt and fluids helps control your blood pressure and keep the proper balance of chemicals like potassium and sodium in your body.
One of the biggest adjustments you must make when you start hemodialysis treatments is following a rigid schedule. Most patients go to a clinic--a dialysis center--three times a week for 3 to 5 or more hours each visit. For example, you may be on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule or a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule. You may be asked to choose a morning, afternoon, or evening shift, depending on availability and capacity at the dialysis unit. Your dialysis center will explain your options for scheduling regular treatments.
A few centers teach people how to perform their own hemodialysis treatments at home. A family member or friend who will be your helper must also take the training, which usually takes at least 4 to 6 weeks. Home dialysis gives you a little more flexibility in your dialysis schedule, but a regular schedule is still important. With home hemodialysis, the time for each session and the number of sessions per week may vary.
Adjusting to Changes
Even in the best situations, adjusting to the effects of kidney failure and the time you spend on dialysis can be difficult. Aside from the "lost time," you may have less energy. You may need to make changes in your work or home life, giving up some activities and responsibilities. Keeping the same schedule you kept when your kidneys were working can be very difficult now that your kidneys have failed. Accepting this new reality can be very hard on you and your family. A counselor or social worker can help you cope.
Many patients feel depressed when starting dialysis, or after several months of treatment. If you feel depressed, you should talk with your social worker, nurse, or doctor because this is a common problem that can often be treated effectively.
Getting Your Vascular Access Ready
One important step before starting hemodialysis is preparing a vascular access, a site on your body from which your blood is removed and returned. A vascular access should be prepared weeks or months before you start dialysis. It will allow easier and more efficient removal and replacement of your blood with fewer complications.
Arm with an arteriovenous fistula
Illustration of a looped graft
Equipment and Procedures
When you first visit a hemodialysis center, it may seem like a complicated mix of machines and people. But once you learn how the procedure works and become familiar with the equipment, you'll be more comfortable.
The dialysis machine is about the size of a large television. This machine has three main jobs:
* pump blood and monitor flow for safety
* clean wastes from blood
* monitor your blood pressure and the rate of fluid removal from your body
To learn more about dialysis machines, click here:
To see a video on dialysis machines, click here:
The dialyzer is a large canister containing thousands of small fibers through which your blood is passed. Dialysis solution, the cleansing fluid, is pumped around these fibers. The fibers allow wastes and extra fluids to pass from your blood into the solution, which carries them away. The dialyzer is sometimes called an artificial kidney.
* Reuse. Your dialysis center may use the same dialyzer more than once for your treatments. Reuse is considered safe as long as the dialyzer is cleaned and disinfected before each use. The dialyzer is tested each time to make sure it's still working, and it should never be used for anyone but you. Before each session, you should be sure that the dialyzer is labeled with your name and check to see that it has been cleaned, disinfected, and tested.
Dialysis solution, also known as dialysate, is the fluid in the dialyzer that helps remove wastes and extra fluid from your blood. It contains chemicals that make it act like a sponge. Your doctor will prescribe a specific dialysate for your treatments. This formula can be adjusted based on how well you tolerate the treatments and on your blood tests.
Many people find the needle sticks to be one of the most unpleasant parts of hemodialysis treatments. Most people, however, report getting used to them after a few sessions. If you find the needle insertion painful, an anesthetic cream or spray can be applied to the skin.
Most dialysis centers use two needles, one to carry blood to the dialyzer and one to return the cleaned blood to your body. Some specialized needles are designed with two openings for two-way flow of blood, but these needles are less efficient and require longer sessions. Needles for high-flux or high-efficiency dialysis need to be a little larger than those used with regular dialyzers.
Arterial and venous needles
Some people prefer to insert their own needles. You'll need insertion training to learn how to prevent infection and protect your vascular access. You may also learn a "ladder" strategy for needle placement in which you "climb" up the entire length of the access session by session so that you don't weaken an area with a grouping of needle sticks. An alternative approach is the "buttonhole" strategy in which you use a limited number of sites but insert the needle precisely into the same hole made by the previous needle stick. Whether you insert your own needles or not, you should know these techniques to better care for your access.
Tests to See How Well Your Dialysis Is Working
About once a month, your dialysis care team will test your blood by using one of two formulas, URR or Kt/V, to see whether your treatments are removing enough wastes. Both tests look at one specific waste product, called blood urea nitrogen (BUN), as an indicator for the overall level of waste products in your system.
(Adapted from NIDDK)