What is Dialysis - Types, Side Effects and Diet Recommendations

Dialysis : Helping Kidney Patients Live Longer, Productive Lives

Dr.Lalit  K Agarwal profile Authored by Dr.Lalit K Agarwal on 4 Apr 2014 - 13:35.


The kidney plays various regulatory roles including acid balance, control of blood pressure, blood electrolyte levels and overall body homeostasis (balance). It may achieve its mandate of functions either alone or in conjunction with other body organs especially endocrine glands. Most of the functions of the kidney are attained by simple methods namely secretion, filtration and reabsorption. Diverse range of causes can disturb the functioning of kidneys; when the kidney(s) fail to perform these functions, a substitute is required to fulfill many of its roles through an artificial set-up called dialysis. Dialysis is a procedure that is a substitute for many of the normal duties of the kidneys.

What is dialysis?

Dialysis is a treatment procedure performed using artificial set-up or the lining of the abdomen (the peritoneum) as a filter to excrete the waste products from the blood, when the kidneys fail to perform its functions. Healthy kidneys remove harmful wastes, extra salts from the blood and maintain fluid balance in the body by adjusting urine output. Dialysis helps to replace some of these functions of a healthy kidney, and hence it is called as an artificial kidney. Dialysis allows individuals to live productive lives, despite the kidneys not working adequately.

What are the types of Dialysis?

There are mainly two types of dialysis.

  • Hemodialysis: It’s an artificial set-up to replace the kidney functions through an operation. It involves transfer of blood into the dialysis machine through an access, which filters out the waste/excess fluid and then returns to the body. It takes four to five hours to complete the procedure. Patient undergoing hemodialysis has to undergo this procedure thrice a week. It’s a bit complicated therapy and involves a coordinated approach of nephrologist, dialysis technician and a dietitian.
  • Peritoneal dialysis: It’s a less common type of dialysis which involves the use of lining of the abdomen (Peritoneum) which contains tiny blood vessels to filter out the blood from the wastes. It involves insertion of a flexible tube in the abdomen and is followed by pumping of dialysis fluid to the peritoneal surrounding. When the blood passes through the peritoneum, waste and excess fluids get filtered into the dialysis fluid which is then drained away. This procedure has to carry on whole day.

When is the dialysis needed?

  • Dialysis is needed if you have lost almost 85 to 90 percent of your kidney function and recorded a glomerular filtration rate (GFR) of less than 15 percent. 
  • Most often, dialysis is required when accumulated waste products in the body become toxic and patient is symptomatic.
  • Your doctor may check for rise in several chemical levels, like blood creatinine and blood urea nitrogen" (BUN) which indicates the need of dialysis.
  • If creatinine clearance (a urine test performed to check kidney function) falls down to 10-12 cc/minute, the patient needs dialysis.
  • If water is excessively accumulated in the body and produces severe symptoms like that of shortness of breath, then dialysis may be indicated even though the creatinine clearance is within the normal range.

Is dialysis a procedure to cure the kidney disease?

Absolutely not, dialysis only performs some of the functions of normal kidney to keep the blood purified until your kidneys get recovered or transplanted.

Is kidney failure permanent and is it required to undergo dialysis throughout your life?

Many kinds of acute kidney failures get recovered after treatment, but at the same time if your kidneys are chronically damaged, then you may need dialysis for the rest of your life. In this case, your doctor may also suggest a kidney transplant option. However, many cases with acute kidney damage may require dialysis for a very short time, until their kidneys recover.

Are there any side effects of dialysis?

Yes, many patients may experience some of the following milder side effects but these often go away:

  • Feeling of exhaustion
  • Itchy skin and muscle cramps
  • Infection
  • Discomfort when the needles are put into your fistula or graft
  • Drop in the blood pressure
  • Drop in blood glucose (if patient is diabetic)
  • Vomiting

What is the diet of dialysis patients?

Diet is an important part of the treatment. It is advised to follow the dietician’s recommendations to eat the right diet. High protein, low potassium, sodium diet is recommended for dialysis patient. The amount of fluid intake may have to be restricted as advised by the doctor, depending on the type of dialysis.

Can dialysis patients go back to their work?

Yes, most of the patients can resume work if they are adapted to dialysis. Depending on the nature of your work, the doctor may advise switching to a job that has lesser physical load.

*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.