Though you may have heard the term “dialysis” before, unless you or a loved one has received this specific form of treatment, you may be unfamiliar with what it entails. 

Here’s a closer look into kidney care of this kind, including why it’s performed and what to expect from the process.

What Is the Purpose of Dialysis?

Dialysis is a medical treatment that helps the body remove excess fluid and other waste products when the kidneys are unable to do so on their own. The process was first developed in the 1940s and became the gold standard for kidney treatment by the 1970s. In the last several decades, dialysis has helped millions of patients with acute kidney injury and kidney failure.

Acute Kidney Injury

In cases of acute kidney injury, kidney failure happens rapidly, though it is usually temporary. Rather than being a blow to the kidney, this condition often develops as the result of another illness, such as in those receiving intensive care. In this condition, your kidneys lose their ability to filter waste products. This causes higher waste levels to develop in your body, and can alter your blood’s chemical makeup. It’s important to note that acute kidney injury doesn’t always require dialysis; in mild cases, treatments such as IV fluids may be used instead.

Kidney Failure

Kidney failure occurs when both kidneys are no longer functioning on their own. This can be caused by diabetes, some acute kidney injuries, and high blood pressure, among other medical conditions. Stages of kidney disease are defined based on how effectively your organs are filtering waste substances, otherwise known as your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). A normal eGFR is 100, which means both kidneys are fully functional, while stage V is defined by an eGFR of 15 or below. Stage V is considered kidney failure and requires dialysis.

What Does the Dialysis Process Entail?

There are two main types of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.

In hemodialysis, a machine cleans your blood via an access surgically created prior to treatment in your arm, neck, or groin. The filtering machine, known as a dialyzer, passes your blood through filters to clean it, then returns it back into your body. Hemodialysis typically takes three hours and is repeated three times per week. Oftentimes, patients need to visit a hospital or clinic to receive hemodialysis, but in some cases, it may be performed at home.

In peritoneal dialysis, your blood is filtered inside your body instead of by machine. For this approach, your own abdominal lining is used as a filter. Before treatment, a catheter is surgically placed in your abdomen. Your belly is then filled with a cleansing fluid known as dialysate, which is administered via a bag attached by tubes. Blood flows naturally through the area, with the dialysate working as a magnet to pull out excess fluid and waste. After several hours, the same catheter equipment is used to pull the waste products out of your body. This type of dialysis can be performed at home.

Everyone responds to dialysis differently, so speak to your doctor and care team about how it may impact you and your lifestyle. Turn to Vascular Surgical Associates for detail-oriented care if you or a loved one is due to start dialysis or needs assistance managing an existing dialysis access. Our specialists can place catheters into veins for immediate treatment, perform ongoing access monitoring, and provide interventions to prolong the lifespan of the access. You can find one of our nine convenient locations online, and learn more by calling us directly at 770-423-0595.