Things to Know About Kidney Dialysis

Though most people know that kidney dialysis saves the lives of people who have suffered kidney failure, how many know how it works or its risks and benefits? Here is some information about this ingenious and life-saving treatment.

Types of Dialysis

There are actually two main types of dialysis. In hemodialysis, a machine called a hemodialyzer is used to cleanse the patient’s blood through a catheter in the patient’s arm, leg or neck. In peritoneal dialysis, a catheter is implanted into the patient’s abdomen, and the blood is cleansed with a fluid called a dialystate. Peritoneal dialysis is more convenient for many patients because they can go about their daily routine without interruption. With hemodialysis, a patient visits a medical center three times a week and undergoes three to four hours of treatment. Many patients begin with hemodialysis and move on to peritoneal dialysis, especially if they are going to need the treatment for a long time.

Another fact about dialysis is that not all patients need to be on dialysis forever. In some cases, the kidneys heal. This rarely happens with chronic kidney failure. In that case, the patient may need to stay on dialysis for the rest of his or her life, or receive a kidney transplant.

Benefits and Risks

While the benefits of dialysis are clear, there are also risks involve with this procedure. The place where the catheter is inserted can bleed, and the patient can suffer from hypotension, arrhythmias and infection. Nausea is also a problem for some patients. Air bubbles in the blood, or air embolisms are also a risk. Though these are rare, they behave like any other clot in the veins or arteries and can lead to strokes or heart attacks.

Patients who are on dialysis for a long time are also at risk for dialysis dementia. This is caused by the presence of aluminum in the dialystate and leads in early stages to slurred and incomprehensible words, stuttering and other speech problems. Later symptoms include loss of memory, seizures and psychosis. The good news is that cases of dialysis dementia can be avoided by removing aluminum from the dialystate.

A Bit of History

A type of dialysis machine was first developed by Willem Kolff, a Dutch physician. As he was working during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, his dialysis machine was primitive. When the war ended, more sophisticated types of dialysis machines were developed, and 1945 saw the first patient to undergo a successful dialysis procedure.