Dialysis is a medical procedure that manually removes the waste material present in the bloodstream. In most cases, dialysis is used in conjunction with kidney failure. Dialysis can be a permanent situation in patients who have lost all usage of their kidneys—at least until a transplant can be made. It can also be temporary, assisting kidneys underperforming due to gross toxicity or influencing medication. However, dialysis only performs the waste removal process of the kidneys. The kidneys perform many other functions that cannot be replicated by dialysis machines.
The primary form of dialysis is the one most commonly described or pictured: hemodialysis. In hemodialysis (hemo- meaning “blood”), the blood is run through a catheter into a dialyzer. The machine has special compartments that, through diffusion and hydrostatic pressure, force the wastes and spare liquids to jump through a thin membrane, leaving behind cleaner blood. This blood then returns to the body through another catheter. Since most dialysis patients have no way of cleansing the blood on their own, these treatments last until enough time has passed for all of the blood in the system to be cleaned—sometimes even longer depending upon the amount of waste being excreted into blood at the time of treatment. In many cases, this can take 8 hours or more. Treatments must be done repeatedly to maintain blood health. Dialysis centers operate 3 times a week, but many patients continue treatments through their own machines at home.
Many health resources provide avenues for accessing this kind of care. Medicare in particular covers dialysis as treated at dialysis centers throughout the country. Many health insurances also provide rebates and cheap rentals of dialyzer machines for home use on the premise that more convenient and frequent dialysis sessions promote a healthier life and fewer future complications.
In most cases, dialysis is only maintained until a transplant is found. Once a new kidney is found and transplanted, physicians wean patients slowly off dialysis treatments. The idea is to give the kidney time to adjust to the new environment and work it up slowly to a full load. A new kidney already has a lot to do, catching up on the work that dialyzer machines are unable to perform, causing them to be overworked at the beginning of the recovery process. Running dialysis during this time is a way to cause the kidney from working too hard.