The kidneys are a pair of organs, each about the size of a fist, located on either side of your spine. They're responsible for purifying your blood by removing waste and excess fluid from your body. When the kidneys don't work properly, dialysis is used to perform the function of the kidneys.
Dialysis is a treatment that filters and purifies the blood using a machine. This helps keep your body in balance when the kidneys can't do their job. Dialysis has been used since the 1940s to treat people with kidney problems.
Why Is Dialysis Used?
Properly functioning kidneys prevent extra water, waste, and other impurities from accumulating in your body. They also help control blood pressure and regulate the levels of chemicals in the blood, such as sodium, or salt, and potassium. They even activate a form of vitamin D that improves the absorption of calcium.
When your kidneys can't perform these functions due to disease or injury, dialysis can help keep the body running as normally as possible. Without dialysis, salts and other waste products will accumulate in the blood and poison the body. However, dialysis isn't a cure for kidney disease or other problems affecting the kidneys. Different treatments may be needed to address those concerns.
How Does Dialysis Work?
Dialysis is an artificial way of cleaning your blood. There are two different types of dialysis:
Hemodialysis is the most common type of dialysis. It uses an artificial kidney, known as a hemodialyzer, to remove waste and chemicals from your blood. To get the blood to flow to the artificial kidney, your doctor will surgically create a vascular access, or an entrance point, into your blood vessels. This vascular access will allow a larger amount of blood to flow through your body during hemodialysis treatment. This means more blood can be filtered and purified.
The two type of vascular access designed for long-term dialysis treatments are an arteriovenous (AV) fistula, which connects an artery and a vein and an AV graft, which is a looped tube. For short-term use, a catheter may be inserted into the large vein in your neck.
Peritoneal dialysis involves surgery to implant a catheter into your belly area. During treatment, a special fluid called dialysate flows into your abdomen. Once the dialysate draws waste out of the bloodstream, it's drained from your abdomen.
There are numerous different types of peritoneal dialysis, but the main ones are continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis and continuous cycler-assisted peritoneal dialysis. In continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis, your abdomen is filled and drained multiple times each day. Continuous cycler-assisted peritoneal dialysis, however, uses a machine to cycle the fluid in and out of your abdomen. It's usually done at night while you sleep.