What is dialysis?

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Kidney dialysis: Overview

Dialysis is a process that filters wastes from the blood when your kidneys can no longer do the job. It is not a cure, but it can help you live longer and feel better. It is a lifesaving treatment when you have kidney failure.

Normal kidneys work 24 hours a day to clean wastes from your blood. Your kidneys are not able to do this job, so a process called dialysis will do some of the work for your kidneys. You and your doctor will decide which type of dialysis you should have. Peritoneal dialysis uses the lining of your belly (peritoneum) to filter your blood. You can do it at home, on a daily basis. Hemodialysis uses a man-made filter called a dialyzer to clean your blood. Most people need to go to a hospital or clinic 3 days a week for several hours each time. Sometimes hemodialysis can be done at home.

It is normal to have questions about your treatment, and you have a right to know what is happening to you. Learning about dialysis can help you take an active role in your treatment. Dialysis does not cure kidney disease, but it can help you live longer and feel better. You will need to follow your diet and treatment schedule carefully.


Dialysis is a treatment for kidney failure that helps filter waste products from the blood when the kidneys are not working properly. The two main types of dialysis are hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.

  • Hemodialysis uses a man-made membrane (dialyzer) to filter wastes and remove extra fluid from the blood. It is usually done in a hospital or outpatient dialysis center 3 times a week. Some types of hemodialysis are done at home.
  • Peritoneal dialysis uses the lining of the abdomen (peritoneal membrane) and a solution (dialysate) to remove wastes and extra fluid from the body. Treatment can be done at home over several sessions each day or for several hours at night.

How can you care for yourself when you get kidney dialysis?

  • Be sure to have all of your dialysis sessions. Do not try to shorten or skip your sessions. You have a better chance of a longer and healthier life by getting your full treatment.
  • Your doctor or health care team will show you the steps you need to go through each day before, during, and after dialysis. Be sure to follow these steps. If you do not understand a step, talk to your team.
  • Your doctor and dietitian will help you design menus that follow your diet. Be sure to follow your diet guidelines.
    • You will need to limit fluids and certain foods that contain salt (sodium), potassium, and phosphorus.
    • You may need higher levels of protein in your diet.
  • Your doctor may recommend certain vitamins. But do not take any other medicine, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products, without talking to your doctor first.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking raises your risk of many health problems, including more kidney damage. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Do not take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), or similar medicines, unless your doctor tells you to. These medicines may make kidney problems worse.

Dialysis: Living Better With Dialysis

Kidney dialysis: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You are confused or cannot think clearly.
  • You have new or worse nausea or vomiting.
  • You have new or more blood in your urine.
  • You have new swelling.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.