Key Points About Dialysis (Hemodialysis)

  • Hemodialysis is performed to take over the usual functions that your kidneys are no longer performing.
  • Depending on your situation, you may receive hemodialysis at home.
  • During treatment blood flows from your body to a machine through one tube, and from the machine back to your body through the second tube. 

Overview

Hemodialysis is performed to take over the usual functions that your kidneys are no longer performing.

Normally, your kidneys perform the function of filtering and removing wastes, salts and fluid from your body. When you are in kidney failure, your kidneys are no longer performing that function, or are performing that function at a minimal level. In hemodialysis, a machine takes over the normal function of the kidneys. If you are on hemodialysis, you will need to:

  • Follow a strict treatment schedule
  • Take your medications exactly as prescribed
  • Make modifications to your diet

Expectations during dialysis

Depending on your situation, you may receive hemodialysis at home, at a dialysis center or in the hospital. If you can receive hemodialysis at home, you will likely need to have daily sessions that last two or three hours each day. If you receive dialysis at a center or hospital, you will likely undergo three dialysis sessions per week, with each session lasting three to five hours. Your kidney specialist and team will help you determine which site and treatment schedule is right for you.

During a dialysis treatment, you will be seated in a chair and you can watch TV, read, nap or chat with others at the dialysis center. Some people can receive at-home hemodialysis while they sleep. For the treatment, two needles will be inserted in your arm. These needles are connected with tubes to the dialysis machine. Blood flows from your body to the machine through one tube, and from the machine back to your body through the second tube. The hemodialysis machine filters a few ounces of your blood at a time. After your session is completed, the needles will be removed from your arm.

Expectations after dialysis

You will continue to have appointments with your kidney specialist, who can ensure that the hemodialysis is working as expected and make any adjustments as needed. Make sure to share any concerns or ask questions at your appointments. 

You should make sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet while you’re undergoing dialysis. Your kidney specialist may recommend you work with a dietitian to ensure you make needed dietary modifications. You should also take your medications as prescribed.

Common conditions requiring dialysis 

If you are in end-stage chronic kidney disease – also known as kidney failure – you may need to undergo dialysis. Some people are on dialysis while they are awaiting a kidney transplant. If you have suffered an acute kidney injury, you may need to undergo dialysis for a period of time while your kidneys heal.

When should I seek treatment?

If you think you may need to undergo hemodialysis, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor can suggest a kidney care specialist who can perform hemodialysis.