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Improving the understanding, detection, and management of kidney disease.

Preparing for Kidney Failure Treatment

As your kidney disease progresses, your health care provider may talk to you about preparing for kidney failure. Talking with your provider about your treatment options ahead of time helps you take charge of your care. Treatment will help you feel better and live longer. The more you know about the types of treatment, the better prepared you may be to make a choice. It's also important to give yourself time to get used to the big changes that will be happening in your life.

Learn about steps you can take ahead of time to have better success with dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Preparing for Hemodialysis: Vascular Access

If hemodialysis is the best option for your treatment, one important step before starting treatment is creating a vascular access. Vascular access is the term for how blood can be removed from your body and returned at the high rate that dialysis requires. The goal is to allow high blood flow during dialysis treatment so that the largest amount of blood can be passed through the dialyzer (artificial kidney). Your own veins are not large enough to be used for dialysis. The best kind of long-term vascular access for hemodialysis is an arteriovenous (AV) fistula. An AV fistula is created when a surgeon connects an artery to a vein, usually in the arm. The increased blood flow through the AV fistula causes the vein to grow large and strong allowing the needles used for dialysis to be easily placed in the blood vessels. The AV fistula is considered the best option because it:

If an AV fistula cannot be created, the two other kinds of vascular access that may be used are an AV graft or venous catheter. An AV graft is a connection from an artery to a vein using a synthetic tube. An AV graft can be used soon after it is inserted. However, an AV graft is more likely than a fistula to have problems with infection and clotting, and the repeated formation of blood clots can block the flow of blood through the graft.

Vascular access should be in place weeks or months before you start dialysis. Learn more about vascular access and fistulas.

A graphic of a hand and forearm showing a looped, synthetic tube connecting the artery running to the hand and the vein running back from the hand. An AV graft will work for hemodialysis. The graft takes less time to mature, but is more likely to become infected or to develop a clot.

Preparing for Peritoneal Dialysis: Catheter Placement

If peritoneal dialysis is the best option for your treatment, you'll need to have a soft catheter placed in your abdomen. A catheter is a tube that carries dialysis solution into and out of your abdomen.

Placing a catheter is usually a simple procedure. Your provider will make a small cut, often below and a little to the side of your navel (belly button), and then guide the catheter through the slit into the peritoneal cavity.

As soon as the catheter is in place, you can start dialysis treatment through it, although you probably won't begin a full schedule of exchanges for 2 to 3 weeks.

Preparing for Kidney Transplant

Your health care provider will tell you if a kidney transplant is a good treatment option for you. Transplantation isn't for everyone. Your provider may say you have a condition that would make a transplant dangerous or unlikely to succeed. If kidney transplant is an option for you, you may begin the process right away.

Learn more about kidney transplants and organ donation.

Page last updated: March 1, 2012