Hemodialysis is a treatment for kidney failure. Normally, the kidneys work to filter the blood and remove waste and excess salt and water. Kidney failure, also called "end-stage renal disease," is when the kidneys stop working completely. With hemodialysis, a machine takes over the job of the kidneys. Blood is pumped from the body, filtered through a dialysis machine, and then returned to the body.

Hemodialysis is usually done at least 3 times a week. Your schedule will depend on where you have it:

  • People who go to a center usually have dialysis 3 times a week. Each treatment usually takes 3 to 5 hours.
  • People do home dialysis 3 to 7 times a week, but they have more choice with their schedule. Some people do dialysis during the day. Each treatment usually takes 3 to 4 hours. Other people do dialysis overnight while they sleep.

When to start hemodialysis?

You and your doctor will decide the right time for you to start hemodialysis. It will depend partly on how well your kidneys work, your symptoms, and your overall health. Your doctor will do blood tests to check how well your kidneys are working. Before you start hemodialysis, you need surgery to prepare your body. Your doctor will create an "access," which is a way for the blood to leave and return to your body.

There are 3 different types of access:

  • AV fistula – the most common type of access and the most recommended
  • AV Graft
  • Central venous catheter - the least recommended unless necessary

What if I choose to not have dialysis?

Yes, you can choose not to have any type of dialysis. People usually live for days to a few months without treatment, depending on their kidneys, symptoms, and overall health. If you don't have dialysis, waste will build up in your blood and will make you feel tired, itchy, or sick to your stomach. Fluid will also build up in your body and lungs. This can cause swelling and trouble breathing. During this time, your doctor will give you medicines to treat your symptoms to try to make you more comfortable.