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Kidney dialysis

If a person's kidneys are no longer able to effectively filter the blood and remove waste products, kidney dialysis is a life-saving treatment that may be needed.

Kidney dialysis is likely to be given as a long-term treatment for severe kidney problems and kidney disease. Some people may be a candidate to have a kidney transplant from a donor, which should remove the need for dialysis.

The life expectancy for people on kidney dialysis is improving all the time. The NHS says some people have now been on dialysis for more than 30 years.

Types of kidney dialysis


The most common type of kidney dialysis is haemodialysis. This procedure involves using a needle to take blood from a specially modified blood vessel, called an AV fistula, usually in the wrist or upper arm. This is connected into a dialysis machine. This then filters out waste products and unwanted fluids ready for the blood to be put back into the body.

This process takes around four hours. It can be done at a hospital, clinic or at home three times a week.

People having haemodialysis will have the amount of fluid they drink restricted because the machine can only process so much fluid. A special diet plan may also be recommended to reduce salt, potassium and phosphorus, which can build up to dangerous levels.

Peritoneal dialysis

Another type of dialysis is peritoneal dialysis. This technique involves the filtering being done inside the body using a membrane in the abdomen called the peritoneum. Special fluid is pumped into the peritoneal cavity to collect waste products from the blood. After 30 to 40 minutes the fluid will have been removed from the cavity. The technique is usually repeated four times a day with equipment carried around with a collection bag, and is called continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis or CAPD. It can also be done during the night with automated peritoneal dialysis or APD.

Which type of dialysis is recommended?

Specialist renal doctors will determine which type of dialysis is most appropriate for each patient. Most major cities have a special NHS renal unit.

Peritoneal dialysis tends to be recommended for adults with kidney disease but who are otherwise generally healthy. Haemodialysis may be more suitable for older people in poorer health, and during pregnancy.

Side effects of kidney dialysis

Both types of kidney dialysis can be exhausting for the patient.

Additional common side effects of haemodialysis are itchy skin and muscle cramps. There is also a risk of infection or low blood pressure.

With peritoneal dialysis, there is a risk of the peritoneum becoming infected. This is called peritonitis. Developing a hernia or weight gain is also possible.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 19, 2015

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