Starting Dialysis Due to Kidney Failure: What to Expect

Blog Post
By South Valley Vascular
December 24, 2021

If you’re experiencing kidney failure and your doctor has asked you to start dialysis, you may have questions like, “How does dialysis work?” and “How long does dialysis take?” Let’s dive into what it is and exactly what to expect when starting dialysis.

How Does Dialysis Work?

Dialysis removes toxins, waste, salt, and extra fluid from your blood by filtering them through a semipermeable membrane. The process prevents these waste items from building up in the body. Dialysis will also help control blood pressure. There are two types of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. 


In hemodialysis, a dialysis machine —called a hemodialyzer— is used to filter blood. Doctors connect your body to the hemodialyzer by creating hemodialysis access, an entrance into your blood vessels, on your arm or leg through minor surgery. Your blood flows through the machine, is filtered, and then returns to your body.

Peritoneal Dialysis

In peritoneal dialysis, your blood does not leave your body. Your doctor will place a catheter (a small tube) in your abdomen. Then, during your dialysis treatments, you or a caregiver will put a solution called dialysate into your abdomen via the catheter. The dialysate solution helps the blood vessels in your abdomen lining to filter your blood. Then the dialysate is drained out of your body along with the waste and toxins. There are two main types of peritoneal dialysis: Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis (CAPD) and Automated Peritoneal Dialysis (APD). 

Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis

Patients can do CAPD without needing a machine. Each exchange involves putting a bag of dialysate in your body through your catheter and then draining it back into the bag to be thrown away. 

Automated Peritoneal Dialysis

APD is a type of dialysis that takes place overnight while you sleep with a machine. The machine will fill your stomach with dialysate, wait the correct amount of time, drain the used dialysate into a bag, refill your stomach with clean dialysate, and then repeat the process.

How Long Does Dialysis Take?

Hemodialysis treatments must take place about three times per week, and each treatment lasts around four hours. For CAPD patients, it takes about 30-40 minutes in between exchanges to drain and refill your stomach with dialysate. Then you must let the dialysate sit in your body for about four or five hours before starting the following exchange. For APD patients, the cycler machine will go through exchanges for a total of around nine hours. In all types of peritoneal dialysis, exchanges need to occur daily, about four times each day.

Where Does Dialysis Take Place?

Dialysis can be done in the hospital or a treatment center by a team of nurses and technicians. However, dialysis can also take place at home either on your own or with help from a loved one. Some peritoneal dialysis machines are even portable and can take place almost anywhere. Talk to your doctor to determine which option would best fit your personal needs.

Is Dialysis Uncomfortable?

The dialysis treatment itself does not hurt. There are needles used in hemodialysis, and sticking can hurt momentarily, but once they are in, they should not hurt. You may experience some other symptoms like muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, low blood pressure, and dry or itchy skin. However, if these occur, speak with your doctor to see if they can help relieve the symptoms.
South Valley Vascular is one of the leading dialysis centers in Fresno CA. The experts at South Valley Vascular specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of diseases and conditions of the blood vessels. If you have more questions about starting dialysis or want to set up a consultation, please call us today at (559) 625-4118.