Although it’s not a cure for kidney failure, hemodialysis can significantly improve your quality of life. Even so, it’s a complicated process that can be difficult to comprehend from the outside looking in. Here’s what you need to know about hemodialysis and how you can prepare yourself for the procedure.
Hemodialysis is a procedure that involves a dialysis machine and a specialized filter known as an artificial kidney. Otherwise known as a dialyzer, the job of the artificial kidney is to clean your blood. This will require an access point to get the blood into the dialyzer by means of your blood vessel. This will involve minor surgery, typically along your arm.
Once the process begins, blood is pumped into the dialysis machine and through a filter before being returned to your body. The machine will keep track of your blood pressure while managing how fast blood flows through the filter. It will also monitor the amount of fluid being extracted from your body.
Hemodialysis is usually a last-resort solution for people living with severe kidney conditions. It’s typically only needed when your kidneys don’t remove enough waste and fluid from your body. If you’re within 10-15 percent of your kidney functions, you may experience uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and swelling. If you or someone you love lives with a kidney condition, it’s important to have honest discussions with your doctor about treatment options.
The dialyzer is the filter that cleans out your blood during the procedure. It’s separated into two parts by a thin membrane. One part focuses on your blood while the other contains a washing fluid called dialysate. The machine doesn’t filter out everything, as white blood cells and protein are too large to pass through the membrane. However, smaller blood wastes like creatinine, potassium, and urea all pass through the membrane along with extra fluids.
Where you conduct the procedure depends on your doctor’s input and personal preferences. Hemodialysis can be done at a hospital or a separate dialysis center. The process can even be done at home with monthly visits to your doctor. Generally speaking, home hemodialysis requires more treatment sessions, about 4-7 times a week with varying hours. Undergoing the procedure at a dialysis center usually consists of three sessions a week, with each one taking about four hours.
Before beginning hemodialysis treatment, you’ll have to undergo a minor surgery that allows for vascular access. This is because the process requires heavy blood flow to ensure the machine filters your blood properly. You’ll also have to take good care of your arm’s blood vessels since they’ll be commonly used for dialysis. When getting an IV or a blood draw, ask healthcare workers to insert needles below your wrist.
The goal of dialysis is to keep you out of the hospital, increase your lifespan, and improve your quality of life. Once you’re cleared to undergo hemodialysis, your doctor will provide a prescribed amount of time that treatment is needed. In other words, it may fluctuate depending on your personal circumstances. However, on average, most hemodialysis sessions take about four hours each when done at a dialysis center. Your care team will proceed to monitor your treatment with monthly lab tests to see if the procedure is working.
While most people begin to feel better after undergoing hemodialysis, there are some potential complications to keep in mind during the treatment process. One of the most common risks associated with hemodialysis is vascular access problems. This can occur because of infections in the area or lack of blood flow.
You may also experience side effects such as muscle cramps or hypotension (sudden drops in blood pressure). There is also a potential risk of blood loss if a needle comes out of your vascular access point or a tube pops out of the dialyzer. However, health professionals are well prepared for this to happen and are trained to help you if this occurs. If you receive at-home treatment, you’ll be trained on how to address this issue by medical professionals.
You may have to make significant life changes once you begin hemodialysis. Get lots of rest and allow yourself to grieve for anything that you have to give up to help yourself feel better. Consider speaking with a mental health professional to help you cope with these changes. Make sure you take good care of your vascular access point and look out for signs of infection or lack of blood flow to the area. You’ll also need to make changes in what you eat and drink.
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