Hemodialysis is a type of dialysis that removes waste from your blood if your kidneys are not able to function well. Dialysis is typically needed when your kidney function drops to 15 percent or lower.
As your kidneys fail, you may develop symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, swelling and fatigue. Waste that builds up in the blood is toxic to your body and must be removed.
Hemodialysis uses a machine that contains a filter known as a dialyzer, or artificial kidney. A dialysis machine has three primary functions: pump blood, clean waste from blood, and monitor blood pressure and the rate fluid is removed from your body.
The dialyzer is about the size of a dishwasher, and looks like a large canister that is filled with small, hollow fibers. Blood flows through the fibers while a cleansing fluid known as dialysis solution is pumped into the canister around the fibers.
Chemicals in the dialysis solution help it work like a sponge to draw small waste products and excess fluid out of the blood. Blood cells, protein and other important elements remain in the blood because they are too large to pass through the tiny pores in the fiber walls.
Before you begin having hemodialysis, your doctor will need to prepare an access point on your body where needles will be inserted during the procedure.
This point, known as a vascular access, is created during a simple a surgical procedure which ideally is done several weeks before you begin receiving dialysis.
The access point makes it easier and more efficient to insert the needles that connect you to the machine. Hemodialysis typically requires two needles for each treatment. One sends unfiltered blood to the machine, and a second returns cleansed blood to your body.
Most people report that they get used to the needles after just a few dialysis sessions. But if the needles are too painful, cream or spay can be used to numb your skin so you won’t feel the stick.
Hemodialysis can be done at a hospital, at a special dialysis center, or at home. Treatments must take place on a regular schedule to help you stay as healthy as possible.