Learn the basics

By: Regan LaPorte

What is Hemodialysis?

Hemodialysis is used to perform the normal functions of the kidneys. When the kidneys stop functioning, your body is unable to clean out waste from the blood and regulate the blood pressure. Therefore, the hemodialysis takes over this process, it artificially cleans out the waste products from the blood.

What is the process of Hemodialysis?

The blood will travel out of the body through a thin tube connected to an artery and be brought to a part of the machine called the dialyzer. A dialyzer is a machine the will remove the waste and extra water from the blood. That clean blood will then travel back into the body through another set of tubes connected to a vein.

How does the blood leave the body?

When a person is receiving hemodialysis they will have something called a AV fistula (arteriovenous fistula) placed. This AV fistula is a device that joins an artery and a vein under the skin in your arm. This device can be used for long term treatment. The AV fistula will be placed under the skin in your arm and can remain there for many years. The AV fistula usually takes about 3 months to heal before it can be used during the dialysis. During the period in which we are waiting for the fistula to heal, we can perform the dialysis by inserting a catheter into a vein in the neck or under the collar bone.


Hemodialysis will be performed 3 days a week and will take about 4 hours each time. The process will usually be performed in the hospital but can be done at outpatient settings or even in the home. Receiving hemodialysis is not necessarily permanent. This process does not heal your kidneys, it replaces their normal function. Days of treatment cannot be missed, because without the hemodialysis your body cannot function.

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The leading cause of death in dialysis patients is vascular disease. The second leading cause is infections. The patient plays a large roll in helping to prevent infection. Here are some simple steps you can follow to help protect yourself from infection:

1. Ask about insertion of a graft of fistula for administration of the hemodialysis. Using a central line increases the risk for infections.

2. Make sure you remind all health care workers interacting with you to wash their hands. It is especially important for the them to perform hand hygiene whenever they access your vascular site.

3. Monitor your own body. If your central line, fistula, or graft becomes sore, red, swollen, or if it begins to produce any drainage notify your health care provider immediately.

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When beginning dialysis there are many dietary changes a person will need to make. A few key points to remember are:

  • Limit the amount of fluid that you take in (this includes all liquid, even things like soups). The more liquid that a person takes in, means that there is more fluid that has to be taken out during the dialysis which can put extra strain on the heart. It is important that you discuss with your doctor the proper amount of fluid to drink in a day.
  • Avoid salt (sodium). Limiting the amount of sodium taken in can help to decrease the amount of fluid needed by the body.
  • Increase protein. A protein should be eaten with every meal. A person on dialysis should eat 8-10 ounces of high protein foods everyday. Foods high in protein include: chicken, pork, hamburger, tuna, egg, and ricotta cheese.
  • Ensure proper intake of potassium. Potassium is an electrolyte the helps the body to function and works mainly with muscle contractions. It is important to maintain adequate potassium levels by eating foods such as: potatoes, tomatoes, bananas, and avocado.
  • Avoid foods high in phosphorus. Avoid food like: organ meats, nuts, seeds, cheese, some fish, shell fish, and beans a lentils.

Can I still drink alcohol?

It is recommended that patients on dialysis do not drink large amounts of alcohol. Alcohol counts into the overall fluid intake for the patients day. However, patients can consume small amounts of alcohol.

Visit these helpful links for more information on diet!



Food Selection for Dialysis Patients

Frequently asked questions:

Can I still smoke cigarettes?

It is always advised that people do not smoke. When a person has kidney disease, their kidneys have lost almost all of their ability to function. Smoking cigarettes negatively effects almost every organ in the body, and can further progress the extensive damage to the kidneys.

Thinking about quitting? Visit the link below for help.


Should I exercise?

People receiving dialysis should exercise on a regular basis. It is recommended that they avoid strenuous activity. Regular exercise helps many patients to feel more normal when receiving dialysis. It also improves their overall health. Recommended activities are: walking, yoga, swimming and biking.

How will my body change?

Exhaustion: Receiving dialysis is very exhausting on the body, both mentally and physically. Almost all patients receiving dialysis complain of feeling tired.

Hair loss: Some patients will also experience some hair loss during the beginning of treatment. The hair loss is usually minimal and is not permanent.

Hypotension: This is a drop in the blood pressure. This is a common side effect of dialysis.

Insomnia: Many patients experience difficulty sleeping. You should inform your doctor if you experience troubles sleeping.

How Kidney Failure Affects Your Body
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Dietary Guidelines for Adults Starting on Hemodialysis. (2014, August 12). Retrieved November 30, 2015, from https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/dietary_hemodialysis

Dialysis. (2014, August 12). Retrieved November 30, 2015, from https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/dialysisinfo

Hemodialysis. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/hemodialysis/basics/risks/prc-20015015

(n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www.vcuhealth.org/transplant/docs/renal_diet.pdf

Patient Information. (2015, October 9). Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/dialysis/patient/