Thumbnail image of: Hemodialysis: Illustration
Thumbnail image of: Kidney: Illustration


What is hemodialysis?

Hemodialysis, also called kidney dialysis, uses a machine to do some of the work your kidneys normally do. The kidneys are inside your belly, on either side of your spine just above your waist. They make urine by removing waste products, extra salt and other minerals, and water from the blood.


  • Cleans your blood by removing wastes
  • Removes extra water, which helps control blood pressure and swelling
  • Helps your body keep the right balance of minerals, such as potassium, sodium, and calcium

Hemodialysis is most often done 3 times a week for people with chronic kidney failure. It can also be done on a more urgent basis for hospitalized patients. Each treatment takes 3 to 5 hours.

How is hemodialysis done?

Before the procedure:

  • Your healthcare provider will ask you to sign a consent form for hemodialysis. The consent form will state the reason you are having the procedure, what happens during the procedure, and what you may expect afterward.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have any food, medicine, or other allergies such as latex.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are taking any medicines, including nonprescription drugs, herbal remedies, or illegal drugs (if any).
  • Before your first hemodialysis treatment your provider must get access to your bloodstream. It provides a way for blood to be carried from your body to the dialysis machine and then back into your body. The access can be made in different ways:
    • A small tube (IV catheter), may be inserted into a large vein in your neck, chest, or leg near the groin. This may be done if you will not need hemodialysis for a long time or if there is not time to place a long-term access before your first treatment.
    • You may have surgery to make a connection between an artery and a vein. You will be given a local anesthetic to numb the area, usually in the forearm. A connection called an arteriovenous (AV) fistula can be made by connecting an artery and a vein. Or a connection called an AV graft can be made using a small tube to join an artery and a vein. This type of access is common if you expect to need hemodialysis for a long time.

During the procedure:

  • The dialysis machine is attached to the access with 2 needles. Sometimes a single needle with 2 holes is used.
  • Blood will flow out of one needle, through a tube, to the dialysis machine. The machine will clean your blood.
  • Cleaned blood will flow from the machine, through a tube, back into your body.
  • A cardiac (heart) monitor may be used to keep track of your heart rate and rhythm.
  • Your blood oxygen level may be monitored by a sensor that is attached to your finger or earlobe.
  • Your blood pressure will be checked regularly.

After the procedure:

  • While you are in the hospital:
    • You will be checked often by nursing staff.
    • Your heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen level, and temperature will be checked regularly.
    • A cardiac (heart) monitor may be used to keep track of your heart’s rate and rhythm.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine to:
    • Reduce fluid build-up and swelling in the body
    • Treat or prevent anemia, which means you don’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to your body. Anemia may be caused by a kidney problem or made worse by your treatment.
    • Prevent organ damage
    • Maintain hormone, vitamin, and electrolyte levels
    • Control your blood sugar
    • Maintain blood pressure

What can I do to help?

  • You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:
    • Chest pain
    • Trouble breathing or wheezing
    • Confusion
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness
    • Fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat
    • Muscle aches or leg cramps
    • Seizure or convulsion
    • Redness, swelling, pain, warmth, or drainage from your surgical wound
    • Fever, chills, or muscle aches.
  • Ask questions about any medicine, treatment, or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

How long you stay in the hospital depends on many factors, such as what caused the kidney failure and the severity of your condition.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-02-03
Last reviewed: 2014-10-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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