What is life on dialysis like? How will it be different? What adjustments will you need to make? Dialysis treatment can seem downright scary – precisely because most people know very little about what it is and how it works. While obviously adjustments will need to be made, many dialysis patients find that coping with their prognosis and ongoing treatment is easier than they expected. Additionally, many come to realize that living with dialysis, when compared to the alternative, can actually greatly improve quality of life.
However, before explaining the dialysis treatment process, this guide needs to define dialysis.
What is Dialysis?
Dialysis treatment performs several functions that are normally done by healthy kidneys. This treatment becomes necessary when your kidneys are not working well enough to perform these functions themselves. Some of the functions performed by dialysis treatment include:
- Removing waste such as salt and extra water
- Controlling blood pressure
- Helping in the production of red blood cells.
This is a very broad definition of dialysis treatment and every dialysis patient is different. It’s also helpful to know that there are three different types of dialysis: continuous renal replacement therapies, peritoneal dialysis, and intermittent hemodialysis. A healthcare professional will be able to provide more details about how dialysis treatment will affect your life.
What to Expect During Your First Dialysis Treatment
Understanding how long treatment is will give you a better idea of what life is like on dialysis. Although every patient is different, and this answer largely depends on the type of dialysis one is receiving, treatment usually takes about four hours and is administered three times a week. However, we recommend you speak with a doctor to know exactly what to expect during your treatment.
Knowing that treatment will take a few hours, you can now plan accordingly. Many patients choose to have dialysis treatment in the evenings. It is worth noting that many dialysis centers offer treatment at night. Finally, you should also plan how you want to pass the time during your treatment (e.g. bring a book or a magazine, etc.). Planning ahead will make living with dialysis much easier.
Although you can receive dialysis in a hospital and in some cases at your home, many choose a dialysis center. The advantages here is that the center and healthcare professionals are dedicated specifically to administering dialysis care.
Dialysis Center Process
After entering the dialysis center, the patient usually goes through a routine check-up. This includes getting weighed, checking your blood pressure, checking your temperature, etc. After this, the actual dialysis treatment begins and the patient is connected to the dialysis machine. This is done via intravenous needles in the arm. If you have ever given blood, it’s not too dissimilar from that. Then the dialysis machine begins drawing blood from your body and mixing it with dialysate fluid. This fluid is what actually removes waste products from your blood. This process continues for several hours.
Adjusting to Life on Dialysis
Anxiety among new patients living with dialysis is common. This concern usually dissipates as the patient becomes more familiar with the dialysis process. As mentioned previously, this anxiety stems from the thought of how drastically different living with dialysis will be compared to before treatment began. While certain adjustments will have to be made, most patients find that dialysis treatment does not, at least for the most part, affect their lives. Most patients can do exactly what they had done previously – including work, travel, and exercise.
Possible Side Effects of Dialysis
While not every patient will experience these side effects, the following is reported by some dialysis patients:
- Anxiety and Stress
- Itchy Skin
- Low Blood Pressure
- Loss of Libido
- Weight Gain
It’s important to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned side effects. He or she will be able to provide you with recommendations on how to manage these effects.
Common Questions about Life on Dialysis
Where do I receive dialysis care?
Dialysis treatment can be administered in a dialysis center, in a hospital, and in some cases in the patient’s home. Although we would recommend a dialysis center.
Who pays for dialysis care?
Medicare pays for 80 percent of the monthly cost of dialysis treatment. You can discuss financial options regarding the remaining 20 percent with your doctor.
What can I do to pass the time during treatment?
This is ultimately up to the patient. Some watch TV or surf the internet on their phones, some will read a book, work, or play on their laptop, etc.
Will I have to change my diet?
This mostly depends on what your diet was like prior to beginning dialysis. Patients are still able to enjoy most of the things they had previously, but healthcare professionals would recommend a healthy diet regardless. A dialysis patient may also need to track how much liquid they consume in a day.
Can I still go on vacation or travel on dialysis?
Yes. Dialysis treatment centers can be found throughout the United States and in many other countries, making it easy to travel and still live your life on dialysis.
Do I need to quit my job or can I still work?
Many people still work while receiving dialysis care. Obviously your work schedule will need to adjust based on when you schedule your treatments. Please note that if your work involves physical labor, you may need to make some changes.
What Happens Next?
Perhaps most surprisingly of all, many dialysis patients go on to live normal lives. However, you should know that dialysis does not cure kidney disease. Dialysis simply performs some of the functions of a healthy kidney. A patient will need to be on dialysis for their entire lives, unless they receive a kidney transplant. Regarding life expectancy on dialysis, this varies greatly. Some have lived for 25 to 30 years on dialysis. Ultimately, this is something to discuss with your doctor.
If you have more questions about living with dialysis, or are looking for a dialysis center in the Philadelphia-area, contact the experts at the Abramson Center.