Dialysis is a treatment that is needed when kidneys fail, meaning they can no longer keep your body in balance. Dialysis treatments do what healthy kidneys typically do for the body including:
- removing waste, salt, and extra water to prevent them from building up in the body
- keeping a safe level of certain chemicals in your blood, such as potassium, sodium, and bicarbonate
- helping to control blood pressure
Dialysis can be done in a hospital, in a dialysis unit, or at home.
There are two main types of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.
In hemodialysis, an artificial kidney (dialyzer) is used to remove waste and extra chemicals and fluid from your blood. Blood from the body is drawn out through a graft or fistula. It is then passed through the dialyzer where it gets cleaned by dialysate (cleaning solution). Waste products are washed away, and the clean blood is returned to the body.
In peritoneal dialysis, your blood is cleaned inside your body. During the treatment, your abdominal area (called the peritoneal cavity) is slowly filled with dialysate through a catheter in the abdomen. The blood stays in the arteries and veins that line your peritoneal cavity. Extra fluid and waste products are drawn out of your blood and into the dialysate which is then drained. There is no cure for kidney disease and dialysis is necessary treatment for people with kidney failure. Some people will remain on dialysis for the rest of their lives while others will ultimately get a kidney transplant. The frequency of dialysis treatments varies by type of dialysis and whether someone is receiving treatment in a hospital, dialysis unit, or at home. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option. As always, it is important to talk to your care team about treatment options to find the plan that works best for you.