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What is dialysis?

Dialysis

Dialysis is a treatment for kidney failure. Kidney failure, also called renal failure, is a life-threatening condition. Healthy kidneys produce urine by filtering waste from your blood and controlling water levels in the body. Diseases or injury can damage your kidneys so they no longer perform these critical functions. 

Kidney failure leads to a buildup of waste and fluid in the body. Dialysis substitutes for damaged kidneys by filtering waste products from the blood and regulating the amount of fluid in the body.  

Chronic kidney failure occurs over a long period of time and can lead to permanent kidney damage and end-stage kidney failure. Treatment for end-stage kidney failure is life-long dialysis or a kidney transplant. 

Acute kidney failure occurs suddenly. Acute kidney failure may go away after treating the cause. In this case, dialysis is a temporary treatment used until the kidneys heal.

Types of dialysis

There are two general types of dialysis. Discuss all of your dialysis options with your doctor to understand which option is right for you. The types of dialysis include:

  • Hemodialysis is a procedure in which your blood flows from your body to a machine called a hemodialyzer. The hemodialyzer removes wastes, extra fluid, and other harmful substances from your blood. It then returns the blood to your body. A specialized hemodialysis team often performs hemodialysis in a hospital or outpatient dialysis center. Some patients are trained to perform hemodialysis in the home.  
  • Peritoneal dialysis is a procedure that you perform at home. It involves filling the space in your abdomen with a dialyzing solution through a small tube called a catheter. The catheter is surgically implanted in your abdomen and comes out below your belly button. The dialyzing solution draws wastes and extra water out of your blood through the small blood vessels in your abdomen. The solution, wastes, and extra body water then drain out of your abdomen through the catheter into a bag. There are two types of peritoneal dialysis. Continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) is a treatment you perform several times throughout the day without a machine. Ambulatory means that CAPD is adapted for staying mobile. You can take part in various activities with the solution in your abdomen. Continuous cycling peritoneal dialysis (CCPD) is a treatment in which a machine performs multiple cycles of dialysis during the night while you sleep. 
Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 12, 2013

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Medical References

Dialysis. National Kidney Foundation. http://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/dialysisinfo.cfm. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/vascularaccess/index.aspx. Accessed May 1, 2013.
Vascular Access for Hemodialysis. National Kidney & Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC). http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/vascularaccess/index.aspx. Accessed May 1, 2013.
Treatment Methods for Kidney Failure: Hemodialysis. National Institute of Diabetes and digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/hemodialysis/index.aspx. Accessed May 1, 2013.
Treatment Methods for Kidney Failure: Peritoneal Dialysis. National Institute of Diabetes and digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/peritoneal/index.aspx. Accessed May 1, 2013.

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