Fact Checked

What is Dialysis?

A Kaminsky
A Kaminsky

Dialysis is a medical process through which a person's blood is cleansed of the toxins the kidneys normally would flush out. It is generally used when a person's kidneys no longer function properly. This can be a result of congenital kidney disease, long-term diabetes, high blood pressure or other conditions.

Dialysis may be either temporary or permanent, depending on the person. If a patient is waiting on a kidney transplant, the procedure may be temporary. However, if the patient is not a good transplant candidate, or a transplant would not alleviate the condition, dialysis may be a life-long routine.

A hemodialysis machine cleans a person's blood when his or her kidneys can't function properly.
A hemodialysis machine cleans a person's blood when his or her kidneys can't function properly.

There are two main kinds of dialysis used: peritoneal and hemodialysis. The first type can be done in the home, by the patient, either alone or with a helper. It uses the body's peritoneal membrane, inside the abdomen, to infuse a glucose-based solution into the abdominal cavity. The solution remains in the abdomen for about two hours, and is then drained out.

Dialysis technicians perform two kinds of dialysis on patients: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.
Dialysis technicians perform two kinds of dialysis on patients: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.

A surgeon must place a tube with a titanium plug inside the patient's abdomen for this procedure. The patient must also be trained to perform the procedure. Absolute attention to sterile procedures is required, or peritonitis could result. This is especially dangerous in patients whose immune systems may already be compromised or suppressed.

Hemodialysis is probably the procedure that most people are familiar with. This procedure is performed at a hospital or dialysis center. The patient is hooked up, via a tube in the veins, to a machine that circulates his blood through a machine, through semi-permeable filters that take out the toxins in the blood. The procedure usually takes three to four hours.

Dialysis cleanses a person's blood of toxins when the kidneys are unable to do so.
Dialysis cleanses a person's blood of toxins when the kidneys are unable to do so.

While dialysis may be a life-saving procedure, it is not perfect. Patients must follow a specialized diet that is higher in protein and lower in phosphorus and potassium, since these minerals tend to build up quickly in the blood. They must also limit their fluid intake, since dialysis only removes so much water from the patient's body. Infection is also an ever-present specter, since a permanent access point must be created in the body for either procedure.

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Discussion Comments


My dad at 69 years old became sick for a few days with flu like symptoms, sore throat, fever, body aches, and loss of appetite. Finally on the morning of day four, my mom got him up out of the bed an into ER by 9 a.m. The ER usually takes forever, four hours at the least and nine hours at the very most, unless the patient is admitted.

My mom returned home between 8:45 and 9:30 pm, starving and tired. She was going to eat and get to bed to be there bright and early the next morning because my dad was waiting for an operating room. It was just a simple surgical procedure to open and flush out some fluid that was forming in his hip. My pops was just fine, well alert, and I'm sure just weak from not eating, but he did get his appetite back while being at the ER! He was told he couldn't eat any solids, nothing at all.

I got the house call about 1:27 a.m. that my father started having trouble breathing on his own, which led them to sedate him and put him on ventilator. Basically, we were told his conditioned was quickly decreasing and we should come ASAP! I don't understand why they wouldn't let us see him or go to his side before that hip flush but they wouldn't let us. An operating room became available and he went in to have his hip flushed -- a simple procedure!

We were told that after he is moved to ICU recovery unit and got settled in and started to stabilize, we could go see him. Well, they got him settled in and hooked up to all his IV fluids and machines to monitor everything and he just never really stabilized after that, or woke up after the sedation wore off.

Then he was put on dialysis because his kidneys were not doing their job and there was a high amount of acid and infection in his blood. I remember them telling us that he can't be on dialysis forever so once the machine does its cleansing, if there seems to be no improvement that they would have to at some point stop the machine. They never mentioned or suggested any of the other alternatives or options that we could try like a kidney transplant or whatever. Wouldn't one of his children have been able to donate if so?

Everything was so sudden and unexpected my dad was pretty much a healthy guy for the most part, with no serious medical conditions and not many visits to the doctor. Has anyone heard of anything like this or close to because I know they said the buildup of fluid in his hip was caused by the severe infection in his bloodstream. I know it's a part of his illness or sounds like strep, because he had strep throat like symptoms. I'm still in disbelief and shock in this reality or in only a matter of hours, life changing event has yet to fully process. Thanks -- Jess


Two weeks ago, my mum (59 years old) was rushed to the hospital because of high blood sugar, difficulty breathing and so on. She was admitted to the ICU with many tubes all over her body. We thought she was getting better after three days, but she developed an infection and three days ago she was unconscious and developed generalized edema. My mum's creatinine level is 2.5, which is higher than normal. The nephrologist ordered dialysis and she woke up but she's still unwell. I'm so scared thinking about dialysis and of course, the cost. My dad loves my mum dearly and we can't imagine life without her.

At the moment, my mum is still in ICU few machines and medications that keep her going. All I can hope and pray is there is a miracle from God.

My heart goes out to all who are on dialysis and the family members/carers. Be strong!


Is there anyone (female) who has donated a kidney and had children afterwards? Or do you know of anyone who had children post donation? Also is there anyone who has been living a 'normal' life on long term dialysis? All the best to all those on dialysis.


My boyfriend is on dialysis and started in January 2013. He is 47 years old. He has his good and bad days. I pray soon he'll get a kidney. He is very spiritual and prays every day.


I am a dialysis technologist in South Africa, and my heart goes out to all of you, and so do my prayers.

I believe the world has yet to see the magnitude of this disease. Support your loved ones. They need that more than you know. March 14 is world kidney day. Make it count. Educate.


My uncle is 87 years old and just started dialysis a month ago three times a week. This is the second time after his dialysis that his heart stops, he loses consciousness and feels weak. The doctors revived him with CPR. The first time they had to shock him (medical term I can`t think of it right now). Why does this happen?


My father is diabetic, and the doctor told my father to undergo dialysis. I'm so scared about it. I hope dialysis will help him to survive. Help me by your prayers.


My dad was 58 in 1990 and had a major heart attack and triple bypass. Three months later, he was diagnosed with end stage kidney disease due to high blood pressure or what I know now, from the drugs used during the surgery.

He did hemodialysis for a month but it exhausted him so he did the peritoneal at home. All the while, he was on the list for transplant. One year to the day from diagnosis, he was transplanted and lived for another eight years. His death was not from that though; it was a ruptured aneurysm. Still, he never made it to 70. Now, I am getting some off numbers for myself and worried. But I am trying to take really good care of myself by losing weight and keeping my lipids and pressure under control. It's scary! My heart goes out to anyone in this situation.


My boyfriend had kidney failure and has been doing dialysis for a year now. To get on the transplant list, he had to go through several tests, which took about a day to get through. Then about two weeks later, he got a letter from the hospital, telling him he could not be on the list and a transplant would not be possible. One reason is he has lung disease and the second is he has heart disease. You have to be in a certain condition of good health to go through a serious surgery like transplant.

Yes, he is a smoker and when he was four years old, he had open heart surgery, which I guess from what the doctors said, still affects his health today. So, he has to continue to do dialysis three times a week for the rest of his life.

There's so much more that comes with kidney failure, too. He had to change his eating habits completely. He is only allowed to have 36 ounces of liquids in a 24 hour period! That also includes food that turns to liquid, like watermelon, for example. There are so many other things he is going through -- too many to list. But this has completely changed his life.

Some good advice to those who have high blood pressure: take your medicine! This is the main thing that caused his kidneys to fail. He has had high blood pressure for so many years now, and he ignored it and never took his meds for it! He doesn't miss taking them now, along with 12 additional prescriptions a day that are needed.

At one time he was so swollen, they took 32 pounds of fluids off of him in four days!

Eighteen months ago, he was healthy and weighed 175 pounds. He is now down to 118 pounds. But everybody is different who has end stage renal failure. He has not produced urine in a year, but a friend of ours who is going through the same thing, is able to urinate daily.

I could keep going with all that he is going through, but like I said earlier, the list is too long and everybody is different with different symptoms, causes, reasons and so on.

I just try to make his life better as much as I can. I've been by his side through this whole horrible process, and I'm not going anywhere.


My father, 85, entered the hospital with double aspiration pneumonia, had three dialysis treatments, had peg tube installed and died of a GI bleed three days later.


My dad just had two dialysis treatments in University Teaching Hospital, Maiduguri, Borno State and he is vomiting after the treatment but later stop. What I want to ask is, is there a way that his kidney will return to normal.


I just found out in March 2011 that my dad had been going through dialysis. It scared me and my kids. My dad went to his treatment one day on a Saturday in March and it scared me because after his treatment he was eating dinner, as he usually does after coming back from his dialysis, and he was not responsive and it took four people's voices talking loud to wake up my dad. He was sitting down at the dinner table and was like, knocked out like somebody had hit him hard on the head and he was stiff like rigormortis.

I was in the hospital and coming home for visits and I was frantic that I couldn't be at home to help my 81 year old dad and now, he's been going to his treatment and I've been going with my 31 year old son who is learning on how to change his bandage and I will be learning to fix his peritoneal and using a machine at home.

He's got a lot of boxes that came to our house. I have been going with my son to take and pick up my dad from his dialysis and I feel better knowing I'm there for my dad while he is going through with his dialysis, but he has also been getting oxygen lately and has collapsed or fainted during his dialysis and he has been insulted by my mom and brother and I'm afraid this is why he has been confused or my brother and mother don't see the harm it could be doing to his mental health and that it could put him into a deep depression unless he's already in a depressed state of mentality.

Praise God there are educated nurses and thank goodness I am a CNA and have some medical knowledge of how to be cleanliness around so that my dad doesn't get any kind of infections. A person on dialysis shouldn't be around any dirt or dust, especially when we need to bring the dialysis machine into our home.


I am just 30 years old, and two years ago i was diagnosed with kidney failure. According to my nephrologist, it will take about 10 more years before i will undergo dialysis. Unfortunately, something happened. I got dehydrated and triggered my kidney to fail. Now I'm on dialysis for two months and I'm looking forward to a kidney transplant.

So far, I've never stopped working and pretending that i am not on dialysis. My family and friends are very supportive. Thanks to all of them.


my mom has been on dialysis for over three years now. I'm sad to say her health has not gotten better and at age 43, she has suffered a lot. During the years she's been so strong and has never let the pain she's gone through show to her five kids. her youngest son only three.

We all love her so much and just recently found out there's nothing to be done to really fix her health problems. It feels like a waiting game and we just have to enjoy the time we have left with her.

I don't have anyone to talk to this stuff about to. I appreciate anyone who's reading this and my heart goes out to all dialysis patients and those with kidney failure.


@anon155710: You need to have a serious talk with your loved one's cardiologist and nephrologist about the situation. Only a qualified doctor who has treated dialysis patients can give you a good answer. Good luck.


Just wanted to know whether kidney dialysis is recommended for an 85 year old man suffering from diabetes and is a heart patient?

Please help me with this thing. i have someone suffering from it!


Yes and it's not going well. Where can I find about the levels of the bloods impurities and most important, what exactly does the dialysis machine do? Exactly.


My mom is 55 years old. For the past 4 1/2 years she has been on dialysis. Nowadays she is very weak and some times she is temperamental. It's very difficult to go dialysis three times a week from a long distance. The government must start dialysis unit hospitals in every district.


What if a patient is too old for dialysis? What then?


what kind of solution is used for hemo and peritoneal dialysis? Is it hypertonic or hypotonic?


My father was recently put on dialysis. I can honestly say that I've seen my father broken down and weary. My heart goes out to him and all those who have family and friends on dialysis. May God be with you all.


my daughter is only 35 and has to do dialysis at least four to five times a week. After several months she is still not feeling stronger..My heart breaks for these young adults. My daughter doesn't have the money to do a double transplant (pancreas and kidney) due to insufficient insurance. What's wrong with our country?

Can't we help our own?


if someone goes on this are they about to die?


My 85 year old mother has just received her first dialysis treatment after going into the hospital with pneumonia. I am praying it's temporary, but realistically I know it's not because she was already in stage four kidney failure.

I am scared. Her first treatment went well with no problems. In fact, the dialysis nurse said she took to it like a 20 year old. But the thought of her having to do this the rest of her life scares me. I will point out though, she is not your typical 85 year old. She is a very tough, active lady who is constantly outdoors working in her yard/garden. She deserved another chance!


it is an awesome article. all my questions are answered(at last). it helped me get an 'A' in my biology project. thanks a lot.


yes, we have a patient who is already 85 years old. she's not so good, because she only goes to the unit once in a week or never due to financial status.


Thanks for the information.


Thanks. Since my mother might undergo this process, this gave me insight on the topic.


excellent article. It is to the point and helped me to gain correct knowledge about dialysis.


thanks. tarek e.


i am 27 years old with an acute renal failure and i was advised to undergo hemodialysis. i feel better but still i'm confused.


thanks. it helped a lot in my biology.


very good article. straight to the point and very educational.


This is a really good site. it really showed me what dialysis is. But i'm glad your family is recovering.


Anon51731: Your dad's confusion should certainly improve as the dialysis continues to take effect. The toxins in his blood are probably causing some of the confusion. (I know because my dad was on dialysis, too.)

As for a transplant, it all depends on age, overall health and other diseases he may have. Talk to his nephrologist and see if he could possibly be a transplant candidate. I do know that sometimes, it's easier to get a patient a kidney transplant from a compatible family member. But it all depends on other conditions he may have. Talk seriously with his doctor about it.


my dad just started dialysis, too. he is a little confused but they say with dialysis we should see a change in his confused state. sometimes he is confused then a while later he is himself. we worry because of his age (64) but since his third treatment we have seen some improvement. we inquired about a transplant because we figure dialysis three times a week would be hard for him to deal with, but some docs have said no because of his age. does anyone have any other solutions or know if anyone has had anyone his age or more that have had a transplant.


this is a very good site.


Anon6053 - I agree with you completely. I was on dialysis for a few months - thankfully my kidney function returned but I was very frustrated with who is in charge. I did not know if my nephrologist was talking to the dialysis center, if the dialysis center related anything to him or to my primary. They say they will sort it out but in the meantime I was very scared for my health (high blood pressure and possibility of stroke at any time). I sympathize with you and anybody on dialysis. I was very depressed as it is a life support, really. Make sure your loved one does not get depressed. Dialysis centers are one of the most depressing places on this planet!


nepal. I appreciated this topic. It helped me more than i was thinking. Many thanks to upgrading this kind of knowledgeable topic. i learned more than I thought.


nice article


My mother is 80yrs old with many medical problems such as Diabetes, pacemaker for her heart, os and now her kidneys are getting worse and they say to start her on Dialysis. Her quality of life right now is okay and we fear this procedure would make her worse. Not sure what to do.


I just found out about a friend who's kidneys failed and is going through dialysis. I had no idea about this process and this article has helped me understand it very clearly. Thanks.


thank you so much for all information. Bright and straight to the point, has helped my son out in his science lessons.


This article really helped me to understand what dialysis means. Thanks very much.


thx guys this really helped w/ my biology honors project!!! =D don't stop!!!!


Hey this article really helped with my school project!


my mom is 87 and just went on dialysis 3 x per week about a month ago. I see her getting stronger but who knows if the process will wear her down over time. She had been living for 4 years or more with stage 4 kidney failure so I think she has more energy than before.


Responding to the questions of an 80 year or older family on dialysis.

This week was the first week that my father has had his three time per week dialysis treatment. It's really too early to tell how it is working for him.

Our goal is to keep the depression from setting in and get some straight answers from the doctors as to his medications. My questions is "Who's in charge? Does the Dialysis Center override the discharge doctor? Who do you listen to regarding

the medications?

This week has been very frustrating for us not know anything about the process and the out come is so

unsure. Is it worth it?



Anyone have a family member on dialysis 80 or above?? If so how is it going?

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    • A hemodialysis machine cleans a person's blood when his or her kidneys can't function properly.
      By: beerkoff
      A hemodialysis machine cleans a person's blood when his or her kidneys can't function properly.
    • Dialysis technicians perform two kinds of dialysis on patients: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.
      By: maya2008
      Dialysis technicians perform two kinds of dialysis on patients: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.
    • Dialysis cleanses a person's blood of toxins when the kidneys are unable to do so.
      By: Tyler Olson
      Dialysis cleanses a person's blood of toxins when the kidneys are unable to do so.
    • Patients undergoing dialysis should be careful not to drink excessive amounts of water, as doing so could prolong the procedure and cause complications.
      By: auremar
      Patients undergoing dialysis should be careful not to drink excessive amounts of water, as doing so could prolong the procedure and cause complications.
    • Dialysis patients are commonly prescribed blood thinning medications to prevent to prevent blood clots in the hemodialysis machine.
      By: Andy Dean
      Dialysis patients are commonly prescribed blood thinning medications to prevent to prevent blood clots in the hemodialysis machine.
    • Long-term kidney disease may necessitate the need for dialysis.
      By: nerthuz
      Long-term kidney disease may necessitate the need for dialysis.