April 01, 2019

Dialysis

An aid to ailing kidneys

Your kidneys perform a number of important tasks, including removing waste products and excess water from your body. Unfortunately, many diseases common with aging — such as diabetes and high blood pressure — can damage your kidneys over time. Gradual loss of kidney function ultimately may lead to kidney failure.

When your kidneys fail, dialysis can help your body control blood pressure and maintain the proper balance of fluid and various minerals such as potassium and sodium. Sometimes the treatment may be a temporary measure. But most people will need it for a longer haul — often for the rest of their lives. That's why living well with dialysis is so important.

When it's needed

Dialysis is needed when your kidneys can no longer take care of your body's needs — generally by the time you've lost about 85 to 90 percent of your kidney function. If your kidneys fail suddenly and rapidly (acute kidney failure), dialysis may be used only temporarily while your kidneys heal. More commonly, dialysis is needed long term. It may be used to bridge the time you wait for a kidney transplant, or it may be used to prolong your life.

How it's done

Most people undergo a version of dialysis called hemodialysis. With hemodialysis, a machine (dialyzer) acts as an artificial kidney to filter waste, excess fluid, and minerals such as sodium, potassium and phosphorus from your blood. With emergency dialysis, a catheter is placed into the blood vessels to perform the procedure. When dialysis is needed for longer...