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Dialysis, also known as renal replacement therapy, aims to replace the critical functions of the kidneys and sustain life in people with severe kidney failure. Dialysis Services are performed by DaVita.
Who Needs Dialysis?
People whose overall kidney function is so poor that it threatens health and survival are said to have end-stage renal disease (ESRD), and need renal replacement therapy--either dialysis or kidney transplantation. When a kidney transplant is not immediately available or not possible, dialysis can replace the critical functions of the kidneys and sustain life. Today, about 350,000 people in the United States use dialysis as renal replacement therapy.
What Do the Kidneys Do?
Understanding the basic functions of the kidney is helpful to understanding dialysis. Each kidney contains filtering units called nephrons--about one million of them. The nephrons clean, or filter the blood of waste products that are produced every day by the body. The amounts of fluid, salts, and body chemicals circulating in the blood are regulated by the kidneys and the kidneys also produce hormones essential to blood pressure control, bone health, and red blood cell production to prevent anemia.
As the kidneys fail, a person develops a condition known as chronic kidney disease (CKD). Common blood tests that detect and measure kidney function include BUN (B-U-N or blood urea nitrogen) and creatinine. More advanced stages of CKD lead to uremia and cause lack of energy, difficulties in mental concentration, poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, anemia, difficulty breathing and ankle swelling from fluid overload, aggravated high blood pressure, and very little urine production.
Dialysis can significantly decrease the symptoms of uremia and improve overall quality of life and survival. However, dialysis replaces only a percentage of kidney function and medications, diet control, and fluid limits are also needed. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the major life-threatening problem for patients on dialysis and our dialysis care involves aggressive treatment of risk factors and cardiovascular disease.
Most people undergo three dialysis sessions each week, for four to five hours each time using their dialysis access. During dialysis, a person also receives medications to replace hormones the kidneys are unable to produce.