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Dialysis is a treatment process that helps the kidneys perform their normal function when they are unable to do so naturally. You typically need dialysis if you have renal failure (also known as end stage kidney failure) because your kidneys are no longer working properly.

Two causes of renal failure include the following:

  • Kidney disease: A chronic condition that damages your kidneys
  • Acute kidney failure: A condition that causes your kidneys to suddenly stop functioning

How does dialysis help?

Dialysis does the following:

  • Filters your blood to remove waste, salt and extra water
  • Maintains a safe balance of chemicals in your blood
  • Controls blood pressure

How long do I need dialysis?

  • Renal failure and chronic kidney disease: You will need dialysis for the rest of your life or until you receive a kidney transplant.
  • Waiting for a kidney transplant: You will need dialysis to stay healthy while you are waiting for a donor kidney to become available.
  • Acute kidney failure: You may only need dialysis for a short time until your kidneys recover.

Types of dialysis


Hemodialysis is a process in which you are hooked up to a dialysis machine that has a filter (called a dialyzer). The dialyzer slowly cleans your blood and returns it to your body. You can do it at home or in a dialysis center.

Before starting hemodialysis, you’ll have minor surgery to create a place on your body (typically on your arm) where the dialysis tubing can access your bloodstream.

Here is what you can expect during a hemodialysis treatment:

  • You will be connected to a dialysis machine.
  • Your blood will then pump through tubes into the dialysis machine, which will filter your blood and return it back to your body.
  • During your treatment, you can read, watch TV, work on a computer, nap or visit with friends.
  • You’ll typically have treatments three days a week, with sessions lasting three to five hours.

Peritoneal dialysis

Peritoneal dialysis is a process in which you use a PD catheter (a flexible plastic tube) to insert a sterile cleansing solution into your abdominal lining (peritoneum). Together, the solution and blood vessels in your abdominal cavity clean your blood of waste, chemicals and extra fluid.

Depending on your overall health and lifestyle, you can do peritoneal dialysis at home or work or while you are sleeping at night.

Before starting peritoneal dialysis, you’ll have a minor surgery in which your surgeon will place a catheter in your abdomen.

Here is what you can expect during peritoneal dialysis:

  • You will add a cleansing solution to your abdomen via the PD catheter.
  • The cleansing solution will filter the waste and extra fluids from your blood.
  • After about four to six hours (known as the dwell time), you will drain the solution from your abdomen and refill it with fresh solution (a process known as the exchange). The exchange takes about 20 to 40 minutes.
  • Peritoneal dialysis typically comprises three to five exchanges a day, each with a dwell time of four to six hours. 

Dialysis for your child

While rare, sometimes children need dialysis too. Kids with chronic renal disease and other systemic conditions (e.g., lupus) will receive personalized dialysis on Rush’s Pediatric Dialysis Unit. It is the only onsite dialysis unit in Chicago dedicated to and designed specifically for children.

What dialysis option is right for me?

There are benefits and risks to both kinds of dialysis. Your nephrologist will discuss which option is best for your health and lifestyle. Some factors that you and your clinician may discuss include:

  • Your overall health and medical history
  • Your proximity to a dialysis center
  • Your lifestyle and personal preferences

Why choose Rush for dialysis

  • Nationally recognized program: The nephrology program at Rush is consistently ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Education and psychosocial support: Dialysis specialists at Rush understand the physical and emotional challenges associated with dialysis. Your care team at Rush offers education and psychosocial support that can help you understand and gain control over your treatments.
  • Pediatric expertise: If your child needs dialysis, Rush University Children’s Hospital has the only onsite dialysis unit in Chicago that is dedicated specifically to children. The compassionate pediatric dialysis specialists at Rush are committed to helping your child live as normally and comfortably as possible.