Healthy kidneys clean your blood and remove extra fluid in the form of urine. They also make substances that keep your body healthy. Dialysis replaces some of these functions when your kidneys no longer work. There are two different types of dialysis – hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. The following is about hemodialysis.
You need dialysis if your kidneys no longer remove enough wastes and fluid from your blood to keep you healthy. This usually happens when you have only 10 to 15 percent of your kidney function left. You may have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, swelling and fatigue. However, even if you don’t have these symptoms yet, you can still have a high level of wastes in your blood that may be toxic to your body. Your doctor is the best person to tell you when you should start dialysis.
How does hemodialysis work?
In hemodialysis, a dialysis machine and a special filter called an artificial kidney, or a dialyzer, are used to clean your blood. To get your blood into the dialyzer, the doctor needs to make an access, or entrance, into your blood vessels. This is done with minor surgery, usually to your arm.
The dialyzer, or filter, has two parts, one for your blood and one for a washing fluid called dialysate. A thin membrane separates these two parts. Blood cells, protein and other important things remain in your blood because they are too big to pass through the membrane. Smaller waste products in the blood, such as urea, creatinine, potassium and extra fluid pass through the membrane and are washed away.
Hemodialysis can be done in a hospital, in a dialysis center that is not part of a hospital or at home. You and your doctor will decide which place is best, based on your medical condition, and your wishes.