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Dialysis: Fact vs. Fiction

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on February 12, 2023

After kidney failure, a treatment called dialysis may be needed to keep you alive. Dialysis essentially acts as a replacement for your kidneys. This therapy, which is done several times a week, involves being hooked up to a machine that filters toxins and excess water from your body and stabilizes your blood pressure. 


If you’ve been diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure and have yet to undergo dialysis, you’re likely a bit nervous or even frightened. You may have heard stories about dialysis from family or friends. But dialysis isn’t as bad as they may have told you. Let’s clear up some common misconceptions about the treatment. 


Myth: There’s only one way to do dialysis.


Fact: There is more than one way to do dialysis. The most common type of dialysis is called hemodialysis. Most of the time, when people say “dialysis,” this is the kind of dialysis they are talking about. It was the first kind of dialysis developed, and it’s still very common. However, there is another type of dialysis called peritoneal dialysis. You may want to check with your healthcare providers to see which type of dialysis will work best for you.

Myth: Dialysis is painful.


Fact: Dialysis is not painful. Hemodialysis may involve slight discomfort as a needle is placed into a graft or fistula in your arm. Peritoneal dialysis may also involve some pain during the surgical setup. But you shouldn’t experience any pain during the dialysis process. However, in some cases, during the process, patients experience a drop in their blood pressure that may result in symptoms such as nausea, headaches, or cramps. This is uncommon, but if it happens to you, talk to your dialysis care team about how to avoid this in the future. 


Myth: I can’t travel on dialysis. 


Fact: Yes, you can! But it takes some extra planning. When you arrive at your destination, you’ll need to have access to a dialysis center. Dialysis centers can be found in every US state. If you’re traveling to a foreign country, it may be more difficult to find a center, but it’s likely that you’ll be able to.


Of course, all these arrangements must be made before your trip. You’ll have to make an appointment before you arrive at your destination and send over your medical records. If you’re on home dialysis, the process is also relatively straightforward. Don’t worry–your care team will help answer any questions you may have. 

Myth: I’ll have to go to a dialysis center for my treatment.


Fact: Home dialysis is an option. More and more patients are opting for home dialysis over in-center dialysis. There are several types of home dialysis to choose from, so talk to your doctor about which one is right for you. One big advantage of home dialysis is its convenience–no need to drive to a center for treatment when you can do the same thing from the comfort of your own home. 


Myth: Dialysis is expensive. 


Fact: Dialysis isn’t free, but it’s affordable. The National Kidney Foundation reports that the US government covers 80 percent of all dialysis costs for the majority of patients via Medicare. The other 20 percent can be covered by supplemental insurance. If you have private health insurance, you’ll be able to cut your costs even more. If you’re still struggling to pay for your dialysis treatment, there are assistance programs available that you can contact for help. 


These are just the most common dialysis myths out there. If you have any more dialysis-related questions or concerns, your doctor will be happy to answer them for you. Remember that having kidney disease isn’t a death sentence–you can still lead a normal, active, and fulfilling life despite needing to undergo dialysis.


Written by Natan Rosenfeld

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All About Home Dialysis

Those with kidney failure used to need regular visits to a dialysis center for treatment. However, for many patients, home dialysis has become an option. 


What Is Peritoneal Dialysis?

Many don't know that there is another type of dialysis called peritoneal dialysis. What is it, and how is it different from hemodialysis? Let’s take a look.

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