Dialysis is a treatment that takes over the job of your kidneys if they fail. The kidneys perform many functions that help your body stay healthy. They help clear toxins out of your blood and help your body balance salt levels. Most patients begin dialysis when their kidneys have lost 85%-90% of their ability. You may be on dialysis for a short time, or you may need it for the rest of your life.

If you have kidneys that are not working and the damage is not reversible, you have end stage renal disease (ESRD). ESRD is caused by conditions such as diabetes, kidney cancer, drug use, high blood pressure, or other problems. Dialysis is not a cure for ESRD, but it does help you feel better and live longer.

There are two types of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. This fact sheet will focus on hemodialysis.

The main functions of hemodialysis are to:

  • Remove waste and excess fluid from your blood
  • Control blood pressure
  • Keep a safe level of salts in the body, such as potassium, sodium, and chloride

It may also be done to remove toxins from the bloodstream quickly. It can be used in cases of poisoning or drug overdose.