Tips for Coping with Hemodialysis Treatment

Receiving hemodialysis care can be a lifelong journey or a temporary process. Either way, patients want treatment to be an easy and comfortable process with confidence that they are receiving quality care. If you or your loved one is receiving hemodialysis, learning more about the treatment and tips for coping can help make it a smoother experience.

What is dialysis?

“Hemodialysis, or dialysis, is a procedure that removes toxins and excess fluid from the body of patients whose kidneys do not work,” stated Caroline Mak, RN, BSN, operational manager, hemodialysis unit, at ProMedica Toledo Hospital.

Kidneys filter the blood to help the body maintain a healthy balance of water, salt, and various minerals. The kidneys normally do these functions for the body, but patients with certain conditions may have to take a different approach.

“Hemodialysis is needed for patients with conditions of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or acute kidney injury (AKI),” explained Mak. “Hemodialysis treatment is vital for patients who have ESRD because patients will need dialysis for life unless they receive a kidney transplant. For patients with AKI, their kidneys may recover, and dialysis would be stopped.”

Understanding Dialysis Treatment

For the most part, dialysis sessions are similar among patients. Mak explained, “The patient has dialysis access; either a central line or an arteriovenous fistula (AVF) or arteriovenous graft (AVG). The patient is connected to a dialysis machine for a specific amount of time that the nephrologist orders; the blood is filtered through the machine to remove the toxins and excess fluid.”

The dialysis access may require pre-procedural treatment before patients begin their dialysis treatments. For example, when patients use a fistula or graft, they first need a procedure to have them inserted into either their arm or wrist. The fistula or graft will be connected between a vein and artery where the blood will flow directly during hemodialysis treatment. This procedure is usually done for patients who have to receive lifelong dialysis. Patients who receive temporary hemodialysis will receive dialysis access through a central line, which is like an IV that you would normally receive for quicker medical treatment.

Once patients begin hemodialysis, they usually receive treatment three times a week for 3.5 to 4 hours.

Tips for Coping with Hemodialysis

Receiving hemodialysis can be difficult, but there are things you can do to cope. Here are some tips for managing your treatment.

  • Participate in your care. Caroline Mak said, “Discuss with your dialysis team why you need dialysis, learn/understand what foods to avoid; and what your medications are for. During your time of dialysis, you want to follow the plan of care that is developed with your dialysis team.” Creating a support system within your care team and family will help make the process of staying motivated during your treatment easier and more desirable to achieve your goals.
  • Find a friend. “Talk with others who are receiving dialysis; to learn how they cope/function,” recommended Mak. During your dialysis treatments, you will be on a schedule to receive treatment on the same days, so you will see the same people. Introducing yourself to others and making a friend will help you feel supported and create friendly accountability.
  • Bring something fun to do. Find a hobby that interests you and you can enjoy during treatment time. Reading a book, watching shows on streaming services, doing crossword puzzles, or listening to podcasts are all things that will help pass the time but do not conflict with treatment.
  • Consult with your doctor about medications. Dialysis treatment may affect your medications. Your doctor may recommend taking your medications after your dialysis treatment so that your medication will stay in your bloodstream.
  • Keep yourself comfortable. You as the patient can ensure you’re comfortable during your treatments by taking initiative yourself with these few tips such as: bringing a blanket so that you’re not cold during treatment, having something to eat before going to treatment and dressing comfortable with loose shirts/tops around your arm for easy access to the dialysis site are all ways
  • Get some rest after your treatment. Hemodialysis treatment can be draining for most patients so getting ample rest is best for your recovery on days you receive treatment.