Dialysis is a treatment that takes over the job of the kidneys when they fail. Most patients begin dialysis when their kidneys have lost 85%-90% of their ability. Dialysis will continue for the rest of their lives (or until they receive a kidney transplant). This is called end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

ESRD is caused by conditions such as diabetes, kidney cancer, drug use, high blood pressure, or other kidney problems. Dialysis is not a cure for ESRD. It helps you feel better and live longer.

There are two types of dialysis:

  • Hemodialysis
  • Peritoneal dialysis

Parts of the Body Involved

  • Hemodialysis—veins in the arm, leg, or neck
  • Peritoneal dialysis—abdomen

Reasons for Procedure

The main functions of dialysis are to:

  • Remove waste and excess fluid from the blood to prevent build-up
  • Control blood pressure
  • Keep a safe level of chemicals in the body, such as potassium, sodium, and chloride

It may also be done to quickly remove toxins from the bloodstream. This can occur in cases of poisoning or drug overdose.

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure


  • Heart problems

Peritoneal dialysis

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure


  • Weight, blood pressure, and temperature are taken
  • Topical anesthetic (a pain numbing medicine) is applied to the arm for needle insertion
  • Heparin (a medication that prevents blood clotting) is given

Peritoneal Dialysis

Before the first treatment, the physician places a small, soft tube (approximately 24 inches long) in the abdomen. This tube will remain there permanently. A portion of the tube remains outside the body for use in the process. It is important to keep this access clean and dry to prevent infection.


For hemodialysis: topical anesthetic

Description of the Procedure


Blood is filtered through an artificial kidney machine, called a dialyzer. The blood travels from the body to the machine through tubes inserted into a vein in your arm, leg, or neck. An access site called a fistula or shunt may be surgically created in one of your veins.

Fistulas may need as long as 2 to 3 months to fully heal before they can be used. They are never used if the treatment is temporary. They are typically created many months before dialysis is begun.

Hemodialysis is usually done at a dialysis center or hospital. It may be done at home with assistance. It is usually done three times a week. Each treatment lasts from two to four hours.


Nucleus factsheet image

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Peritoneal Dialysis

The abdominal lining is called the peritoneal membrane. In this type of treatment it is used to filter blood instead of a machine. A cleansing solution, called a dialysate, is inserted into your abdomen. Fluid, wastes, and chemicals pass from the tiny blood vessels in the peritoneal membrane into the dialysate. It is then drained after several hours. New dialysate can then be added to repeat the process. A port in the abdomen may be needed for long-term treatment.

There are three types of peritoneal dialysis:

  • Continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD)—is the most common type of peritoneal dialysis. A bag of dialysate is infused into the abdomen through a catheter. It remains there for 3-6 hours and is drained. The abdomen is refilled with fresh solution. This way your blood is always being cleaned. No machine is needed.
  • Continuous cyclical peritoneal dialysis (CCPD)—is done by machine. It is done at night while sleeping.
  • Intermittent peritoneal dialysis (IPD)—uses the same type of machine as CCPD. This requires assistance and is usually done at a hospital or center. It often takes longer than CCPD.

Peritoneal Dialysis

Nucleus factsheet image

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

After Procedure

Your blood pressure will be monitored.

How Long Will It Take?

The time needed for dialysis depends on a few factors:

  • How much kidney function remains
  • How much fluid weight gain has occurred since the last treatment
  • Amount of waste in the body
  • Body size
  • Level of minerals in your body such as sodium, potassium, and chloride
  • Dialysis method used

The approximate time and frequency of each method:

TypeLength of procedureFrequency of procedure
Hemodialysis2-4 hours3 times/week
CAPD3-6 hours, plus 30 minutes to drain4 times/day
CCPD9-12 hoursEvery night
IPD12 + hours36-42 hours/week

Will It Hurt?

In general, dialysis procedures do not cause pain. You will not feel the blood exchange. There may be some temporary discomfort with the insertion of the needle or tube.

Possible Complications

  • Anemia
  • Drop in blood pressure during dialysis
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Infection
  • Feeling hot, sweaty, weak, and/or dizzy
  • Peritonitis (infection of the peritoneum), which causes fever and stomach pain (peritoneal dialysis only)
  • Growth problems in children
  • Inflammation of the heart sac (pericarditis)
  • Neurologic problems
  • Disruption of calcium and phosphorus balance, resulting in weakened bones

Average Hospital Stay


Postoperative Care

Once the procedure is complete and blood pressure is stable, you are free to continue daily activities. There are some special considerations:

Dietary Guidelines

Certain dietary guidelines should be followed. This will help to keep overall health and optimize the treatment. Patients who have peritoneal dialysis may have slightly fewer dietary restrictions than hemodialysis patients. This is due to the more frequent filter schedule. Talk to your doctor about your specific dietary needs.


Your doctor may give various types of medication. These include, but are not limited to

  • Blood pressure medications
  • Calcium supplements or multivitamins
  • Phosphorus binders—to lower phosphorus levels in the blood
  • Diuretics—to remove excess fluid
  • Stool softeners or laxatives—to prevent or treat constipation, which can be caused by decreased fluid intake
  • Iron supplements—to increase iron intake, which is important for production of red blood cells


Dialysis helps maintain blood pressure, cleaning of the blood, and chemical and hormonal exchanges that are critical to survival.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, warmth, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge at the catheter or tube insertion site
  • Blood or cloudiness in the peritoneal dialysis fluid
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness or weakness


The Kidney Dialysis Foundation

National Kidney Foundation

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC)


The Kidney Foundation of Canada: British Columbia Branch

The Kidney Foundation of Canada: Northern Alberta and the Territories Branch


Dialysis. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: http://www.kidney.org/. Accessed July 28, 2008.

Peritoneal Dialysis Dose and Adequacy. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC) website. Available at: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/. Accessed July 28, 2008.

Last reviewed February 2008 by Daus Mahnke, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Your Health and Happiness