Frequently Asked Dialysis Questions


How will dialysis change my life?

This question is complex and deserves more specific questions.


Does life expectancy change with dialysis?

As with many chronic diseases, your life expectancy is not normal if you have ESRD (End Stage Renal Disease) and are starting (or on) dialysis. The usual life expectancy in the U.S. is approximately 80 years. It is considerably shorter if you are on dialysis. On average, a patient starting dialysis will live only about 20% of their typical life expectancy; this may be even lower if you're diabetic. Remember, though, these are only averages. 


If I am starting dialysis, what can I do to increase my life expectancy?

As above, these numbers are averages, and clearly some patients can live many years in otherwise relatively good health. But is it clear that these patients typically adhere to important principles which benefit their health on dialysis. Patients that enjoy a longer, healthier life on dialysis remain compliant with the following:  


  • Not Missing Dialysis Treatments
  • Running Each Treatment Completely as Prescribed by Your Physician
  • Control Your Volume--Keep to a Salt and Fluid Restriction
    (as prescribed by your physician and managed by your dietician (See Below)
  • Controlling Your Phosphorous (see below)
  • Staying Infection Free (see below)


What Does Controlling My Volume Mean?
Remember that as your kidneys fail, they lose the ability to control the removal of excess fluid and salt (along with many other substances) from the body. The process of dialysis is used to remove this excessive salt and water-- but a single dialysis treatment has fluid removal limitations. Therefore, if you are on dialysis and eat more salt and or drink more fluid than dialysis can remove, then your body will become overloaded with fluid and salt which can lead to severe complications- increase in blood pressure and heart failure to name too significant complications of this fluid overload.


Why is Phosphorus So Important?


Phosphorus is a nutrient found in many foods and stored mainly in your bones. The kidneys help regulate phosphorus storage and excretion from the body. When ESRD develops, the body has problems with excreting excessive phosphorus and has problems with storing phosphorus in bones. These leads to weak bones and high levels of phosphorus in the blood which in turn can deposit in blood vessels and make them very stiff—”hardening of the arteries”. Therefore, it is very important to control phosphorus levels by limiting high phosphorous foods in the diet and taking medicines called phosphate binders with meals. These “binders” block the blood streams absorption of phosphorus.


How Do I Stay Away From Infections? 

Infections are a common and potentially life-threatening complication of ESRD. One of the best ways of staying away from infections is to avoid needing a catheter for your dialysis access. The caregivers doing your dialysis need “access” to your blood. Accessing your blood is achieved with an artificial fistula via a surgical procedure or a catheter. This catheter is like having a large, semi-permanent IV. Having a catheter increases your risk of infection and should be avoided. Using a catheter as your dialysis access point shortens your life expectancy. 


Remember, you can greatly increase your chances of living a relatively healthy and active life if you’re able to follow these recommendations along with the following the diet the dietician recommends and being compliant with the other medicines your doctor prescribes.