When dialysis was an emerging technology, it was often considered to be a death sentence. Essentially, the patient would go through day after day of visits to the clinic and consulting doctors, leaving no time to live life. That’s not the case anymore, especially when the patient is otherwise well and keeps healthy. There are about 217,000 people in the United States who undergo dialysis regularly, costing over 11 billion dollars every year.
All the particulars of dialysis, such as how long each session will take and what dietary restrictions the patient will need to follow, are different for each person. A doctor and a nutritionist will have to analyze the patient’s blood and urine to determine the exact needs. Weight and the stage of kidney disease are also factors in how long each session will take. Physicians break kidney dialysis into two types: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. The vast majority of people, about ninety percent of all dialysis patients, undergo the former. In this process, the blood is drawn outside the body through a machine that cleans the blood of waste products and then circulates it back into the body.
The body has to be prepared for the process. Doctors create what is called a fistula (entrance) into the body with a minor surgery in the leg, arm or neck. This allows the dialysis machine to be attached and blood to be circulated through it. All of the patient’s blood passes through a fluid called dialysate, which is the agent that removes all of the waste products from the bloodstream.
The other type of dialysis involves more patient participation. Peritoneal dialysis uses the peritoneal membrane (a semi-permeable sac surrounding the abdominal organs) as a filter. This membrane allows the tiny particles of waste to pass, but blood cells are too big to go through. This type of dialysis requires the patient to add the dialysate fluid through a catheter, then drain it again every three or four hours – then add it again and repeat the process about five or six times every day. It takes about half an hour to drain the fluid. A patient who uses this dialysis process does not have to visit a clinic several hours each day, but this transfers a great deal of responsibility. Without proper care, the patient can suffer infection. It may not be an option for larger patients.
The Effects of Diet on Your Kidneys
Each of the five stages of kidney disease will bring new dietary changes. The changes will not be very large for the early stages but will become more pronounced as the disease progresses. Reducing the intake of protein and certain other nutrients will slow any further development of kidney disease. The last stage, end stage renal disease, will reverse the trend and require an increase in protein until it is above the daily need of someone with perfectly healthy kidneys. It will be up to your doctor and/or nutritionist to determine how much protein you will need – having too much or too little can be hazardous to your health. This extra protein should not come from high-fat animal proteins – there are plant proteins and healthy protein supplements that will serve the need in a better manner.
You and your nutritionist will have to consult a great deal together during each stage of kidney disease in order to protect your kidneys from further damage. A healthy diet will not only help your kidneys but prevent further complications from developing. Keeping your intake of fat and salt fairly low will help with your blood pressure, for example. A healthy diet also makes it easier to control weight, which is important, since being overweight comes with an array of problems on its own in addition to being a strain on your kidneys. Just losing a few pounds can make a good deal of difference in your health.
The amount of fluids that you take in will also become vitally important. Most people are already slightly dehydrated most of the time. If you feel thirsty, that is the beginning stage of dehydration. Too many fluids in the body can also be dangerous as well, diluting the electrolytes in your body. Electrolyte imbalances can be the cause of many problems, from confusion to heart rhythm irregularities. If you have kidney disease, the amount of fluids that you are allowed to have will be restricted, since your kidneys are not going to remove enough of the excess fluid, causing swelling of the organs.
Living with Dialysis
The type of life that you’ll lead when dialysis becomes necessary is dependent upon a number of factors, not the least of which is what type of dialysis will be used. Hemodialysis will require a restructuring of your daily schedule around your treatment times. Students or people who can work from home will likely have to bring work to the clinic while confined to the bed. Peritoneal dialysis means that you can start at home and change fluid during the day when the time comes. Many people set alarms so that they know just when the time comes. This will require some accommodation from coworkers or supervisors who need to know that you will need thirty minute periods to drain.
No matter what type of dialysis you undergo, you will need to consult with a nutritionist to know what your dietary needs are and will be in the future. If you are in a later stage of kidney disease, you will need more protein and will likely have to take protein supplements to get the right level. Earlier stages of kidney disease will need drastically less protein as well as less salt and fat in order to control weight and hypertension.
An important part of the daily regimen can be Profect, a protein supplement made by Protica, which gives a powerful dose of protein in a small serving. It comes in a number of delicious fruit flavors and its calorie count (only 100 per serving) is small enough to stay within the limits of any diet.