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What You Should Know If Your Kidneys Need Dialysis

Your kidneys are critical to your health. They are responsible for cleaning toxins from your blood and regulating how much salt and water you expel. If your kidneys aren’t functioning the way they should, dialysis can step in and do this work for your kidneys.

There are three options you can consider if you need to replace your kidney function.

Option 1: You can go to an outpatient center for hemodialysis

Hemodialysis uses a machine to clean your blood. It accesses your blood vessels through an entry point in your arm, pumps your blood through a filter that removes toxins, solutes, salts and water, and then returns the clean blood to your body.

You can have hemodialysis performed in an outpatient dialysis center. You’ll usually need dialysis three times a week for four hours each time.

The benefit: “Many patients do extremely well with outpatient hemodialysis because they enjoy the social network at the dialysis center and form close relationships with their nurses and technicians. They also feel more confident when they are monitored by the dialysis center,” said Amy Sussman, MD, a nephrologist at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson.

Option 2: You can perform hemodialysis treatments at home

You can also do hemodialysis yourself, without leaving home. Sessions are typically either three times a week for four hours each time, or five to six times a week for two to three hours each time.

At home, you will need someone with you to monitor you during your session, and you will need to place needles into your blood vessel access points yourself.

The benefit: “Most patients who do home hemodialysis have the most energy and, often, a better quality of life,” Dr. Sussman said.

Option 3: You can opt for peritoneal dialysis treatments at home

Peritoneal dialysis (PD) uses your own abdominal cavity to remove the toxins, solutes, salts, and water from your blood. “This is truly an amazing way to take advantage of our own body to do the work of the kidneys,” Dr. Sussman said.

In this process, a PD catheter is inserted in your abdomen. Dialysis solution is placed in the abdomen through the catheter and your body naturally filters your blood. The solution is swapped out for clean solution periodically, and the treatment can be performed overnight for eight hours or throughout the entire day.

You can use an automated machine to fill and drain your abdomen during the night while you sleep, so you don’t have to travel to a dialysis center or use a machine in the day. With PD, you don’t need anyone to monitor you.

The benefit: “Most patients who start with peritoneal dialysis never want to transition to hemodialysis as they love the flexibility and freedom that PD offers,” Dr. Sussman said.

How long will I need dialysis?

In some cases, you might not need dialysis for long. If you injure your kidneys or have a medical problem like shock, disease or infection, dialysis can take over while they heal. More than 75 percent of the time, in these cases your kidneys will recover, and you will need dialysis for three months or less.

On the other hand, you might have end-stage kidney disease where you will need dialysis permanently. If that’s the case, you should be evaluated for a kidney transplant, which could give you the best survival odds and quality of life.

If you need dialysis, you don’t have to pick one type and stick with it forever. You might start with hemodialysis at an outpatient center, then switch to peritoneal dialysis at home, for example.

The bottom line

If your kidneys aren’t functioning properly, dialysis can help. By learning about your disease and the different types of dialysis, you can choose the one that best matches your needs and your lifestyle. “People do best when they are armed with education and informed to make the right choices for their life,” Dr. Sussman said.

To connect with a health professional who can guide you through your options for kidney care and health, visit

Check out these articles to learn more about kidney health and kidney problems:

Kidney Urology