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Treatment Option: Hemodialysis

What is hemodialysis?

Hemodialysis (also called hemo) is a treatment for kidney failure. It is a way to clean waste and fluid from your blood when your kidneys have stopped working.

How does hemodialysis work?

Diagram explaining how a hemodialysis machine works.

Hemodialysis uses a machine to clean your blood. During treatment, your blood travels from your body, through the dialysis machine, and back to your body. While it is in the machine, your blood goes through a special filter (called a dialyzer), which removes waste and fluid.

When and where can I do hemodialysis?

  • In-center hemodialysis is the most common treatment for kidney failure. This is done at a dialysis center. Most people who do in-center hemodialysis will have three treatments per week, with each treatment lasting about three to five hours. If you choose to do in-center hemodialysis, you will work with your dialysis center to schedule appointments.
  • Home hemodialysis is a treatment you do yourself, with the help of a partner, at home. Both you and your partner must be trained to use the machine and insert needles. Home hemodialysis may let you have a more flexible treatment schedule. For example, you may be able to do treatments more often but for shorter times. Still, you will need to work with your doctor to make sure that you’re getting enough dialysis.

How can I get ready for hemodialysis?

In order to have any type of hemodialysis, you will need to have a vascular access. Your vascular access is the place on your body that needles are inserted during treatments. This is how your blood will exit and return to your body. There are three types of vascular access:

  • Fistula
  • Graft
  • Catheter

Discuss with your doctor which type of vascular access is right for you. Also ask your doctor when you should get your vascular access. This requires surgery and will need time to heal. Your doctor may recommend getting a vascular access even if you are not planning to start dialysis right away.

What else should I think about?

As you consider hemodialysis, think about how it fits with your lifestyle.

Diet

Following a kidney-friendly diet helps to limit the buildup of waste and fluid between dialysis treatments. This can help you feel better during treatments and can also help you avoid heart and bone problems. Work with the renal dietitian at your dialysis center to find a kidney-friendly meal plan that works for you.

Travel

You can still travel while doing hemodialysis, but you may need to do a bit more planning. To prepare for a trip, you will need to schedule dialysis appointments with centers at your destination to make sure you’re covered along the way. Talk with the social worker at your dialysis center to learn more about travel resources for dialysis patients.

Finances and insurance

Medicare, Medicaid and many insurance plans will cover most of the costs of dialysis. Most people on dialysis are able to get Medicare coverage, no matter their age; however, depending on the type of treatment you choose, you may have to wait a few months before coverage begins. You may also need to pay deductibles or co-pays. Check with your insurance provider to learn more about your coverage. The social worker at your dialysis center can also help answer questions.

Additional Resources

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: www.kidney.niddk.nih.gov

Kidney School: www.kidneyschool.org

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Illustration courtesy of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, www.niddk.nih.gov.

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