Discovering that you need dialysis or a transplant can feel life-altering. Fortunately, there are treatments options and medications that can replace kidney function and help you maintain your quality of life. One option is hemodialysis (HD), and it could be a treatment that’s right for you.

How does hemodialysis work?

In hemodialysis, a machine removes blood from the body and filters it through a man-made membrane called a dialyzer, or artificial kidney, to clean out toxins that your kidneys can no longer remove. The filtered blood is then returned to the body. Only a small amount of blood (less than two cups) is outside of the body at any time. To perform hemodialysis there needs to be an access point created to get the blood from the body to the dialyzer and back to the body. Typically, an arteriovenous (AV) fistula or an AV graft will be surgically created, usually in your non-dominant forearm, to act as the access point for dialysis. Your doctor will determine the right type of access for you.

Are there different types of hemodialysis?

HD can be performed in three ways to fit your way of life: at home (called home hemodialysis or HHD), in a dialysis center during the day, or in a dialysis center overnight while you sleep (called in-center nocturnal hemodialysis ).

How often is hemodialysis done?

Depending on the type of hemodialysis treatment you choose and what your doctor prescribes, your treatment schedule can vary. People who perform HHD can dialyze five or six times a week for two to three hours per session. People who do in-center hemodialysis usually dialyze three times a week, for about three to four hours each treatment.

Will hemodialysis treatments fit my lifestyle?

Hemodialysis is an effective treatment when you have end stage renal disease (ESRD). However, HD is only one component of your comprehensive treatment plan, and you will need to make some adjustments to your everyday life. Be sure to follow your prescribed diet and fluid restrictions as well as your prescriptions, which may replace other functions of the kidney, such as regulating blood pressure and stimulating production of red blood cells to prevent anemia.

All dialysis treatments have their advantages and disadvantages. Based on your lifestyle and medical needs, you and your doctor can discuss your options and decide which one is right for you.

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