Hemodialysis

Doing the work of your kidneys, when they no longer function

If you’ve been told you are in kidney failure, it means your kidney function is less than 10 to 15 percent of normal. Hemodialysis is a lifesaving treatment in which your blood is filtered through a machine to remove waste products, fluid and other material from your blood, when your kidneys are no longer able to do so.

Overview

If you’ve been told you are in kidney failure, it means your kidney function is less than 10 to 15 percent of normal. Hemodialysis is a lifesaving treatment in which your blood is filtered through a machine to remove waste products, fluid and other material from your blood, when your kidneys are no longer able to do so.

If you need hemodialysis, you can expect to receive treatment on a regular schedule, usually about three times a week. The procedure does require a time commitment as each session lasts three – five hours. It is available as an outpatient service or can be done in your own home. You and your doctor will decide what is best for you.

How Does Hemodialysis Work?

Before starting hemodialysis, you will need a dialysis catheter inserted. This catheter will provide entry and exit access points for your blood filtering to take place. The catheter placement is considered a minor surgery and will need to be done before your dialysis can begin.

Once your catheter is in place and healed, you are ready for dialysis. During your hemodialysis session, blood flows out of your body through tubing and into a filter called a dialyzer (artificial kidney), which removes waste products, fluid, and corrects the mineral levels in your blood. The blood then re-enters your body through another set of tubes. A hemodialysis machine removes the waste products from the dialyzer filter and monitors your blood flow.

How Long Will I Need Hemodialysis?

If your kidneys were injured because of a catastrophic illness, you may only need hemodialysis until your kidneys heal. If you are waiting for a kidney transplant, they you may need dialysis until your new kidney becomes available.

However, if your kidney failure is permanent and a kidney transplant is not appropriate for your condition or you have opted to not undergo a transplant, then your hemodialysis will continue for the rest of your life as an ongoing-therapy to replace your kidney function, unless you choose to discontinue the hemodialysis or switch to another form of dialysis.

Options for Hemodialysis Treatment

You may have hemodialysis as an inpatient, outpatient or at home.

  • Inpatient hemodialysis: Kidney failure is serious and you will likely begin hemodialysis while in the hospital. You will have a team of nephrologists, nurses, technicians and other healthcare providers to support your care and provide your treatments. You might also start dialysis in the hospital if you are waiting for a kidney transplant or transitioning to another form or dialysis.
  • Outpatient hemodialysis: If you receive hemodialysis as an outpatient, you will travel to a center three times a week. You can expect to be there for about three to five hours each day of your treatment, so consider bringing things to occupy your times such as books, tablets or even your laptop.
  • Home hemodialysis: Having your treatment at home gives you the most independence and convenience. This option has become possible as the machines are now smaller and easier to use. You can choose your treatment times and even dialyze more often. This could make you feel better as less waste will build up in your bloodstream between treatments. While this may seem like a big step, you’ll be trained on the equipment for several weeks so you know how to perform the dialysis. Once set up in your home, you’ll receive everything you need in order to be successful.

What to Expect from Hemodialysis

If you need hemodialysis, you can expect to receive treatment on a regular schedule, usually about three times a week. The procedure does require a time commitment as each session lasts three – five hours. It is available as an outpatient service or can be done in your own home. You and your doctor will decide what is best for you.

How Does Hemodialysis Work?

Before starting hemodialysis, you will need a dialysis catheter inserted. This catheter will provide entry and exit access points for your blood filtering to take place. The catheter placement is considered a minor surgery and will need to be done before your dialysis can begin.

Once your catheter is in place and healed, you are ready for dialysis. During your hemodialysis session, blood flows out of your body through tubing and into a filter called a dialyzer (artificial kidney), which removes waste products, fluid, and corrects the mineral levels in your blood. The blood then re-enters your body through another set of tubes. A hemodialysis machine removes the waste products from the dialyzer filter and monitors your blood flow.

How Long Will I Need Hemodialysis?

If your kidneys were injured because of a catastrophic illness, you may only need hemodialysis until your kidneys heal. If you are waiting for a kidney transplant, they you may need dialysis until your new kidney becomes available.

However, if your kidney failure is permanent and a kidney transplant is not appropriate for your condition or you have opted to not undergo a transplant, then your hemodialysis will continue for the rest of your life as an ongoing-therapy to replace your kidney function, unless you choose to discontinue the hemodialysis or switch to another form of dialysis.

Options for Hemodialysis Treatment

You may have hemodialysis as an inpatient, outpatient or at home.

  • Inpatient hemodialysis: Kidney failure is serious and you will likely begin hemodialysis while in the hospital. You will have a team of nephrologists, nurses, technicians and other healthcare providers to support your care and provide your treatments. You might also start dialysis in the hospital if you are waiting for a kidney transplant or transitioning to another form or dialysis.
  • Outpatient hemodialysis: If you receive hemodialysis as an outpatient, you will travel to a center three times a week. You can expect to be there for about three to five hours each day of your treatment, so consider bringing things to occupy your times such as books, tablets or even your laptop.
  • Home hemodialysis: Having your treatment at home gives you the most independence and convenience. This option has become possible as the machines are now smaller and easier to use. You can choose your treatment times and even dialyze more often. This could make you feel better as less waste will build up in your bloodstream between treatments. While this may seem like a big step, you’ll be trained on the equipment for several weeks so you know how to perform the dialysis. Once set up in your home, you’ll receive everything you need in order to be successful.

Hemodialysis can seem like a big step and you probably have a lot of questions. Some of the questions you might want to ask include:

  • Why do I need dialysis? Are there any other options?
  • Will I continue to take my previous medications?
  • Will I need dialysis after a kidney transplant?
  • Are there any risks to this procedure?
  • Is doing it on my own at home safe?
  • Are there any activities I should avoid while I am on dialysis?

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Hemodialysis

Hemodialysis can seem like a big step and you probably have a lot of questions. Some of the questions you might want to ask include:

  • Why do I need dialysis? Are there any other options?
  • Will I continue to take my previous medications?
  • Will I need dialysis after a kidney transplant?
  • Are there any risks to this procedure?
  • Is doing it on my own at home safe?
  • Are there any activities I should avoid while I am on dialysis?

NIDDK

Information about hemodialysis from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Resources

NIDDK

Information about hemodialysis from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Patient Stories for Hemodialysis