Dialysis medications: What they do, what to watch for

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Dialysis medications: What they do, what to watch for

If you need dialysis, various medications can help you maintain your quality of life.

Dialysis is an artificial way to remove waste products and extra fluid from your blood when your kidneys can no longer do so on their own. If you need dialysis — either hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis — your doctor will prescribe various medications to help you maintain the highest quality of life.

Here's a list of medications commonly prescribed for people receiving dialysis. The medications your doctor prescribes for you may vary depending on the circumstances.

Blood thinners

Common choices: Heparin sodium (Heparin), warfarin (Coumadin).

Why you need them: To prevent blood clots in the hemodialysis machine, access point and tubing or to keep the peritoneal catheter free of fibrin — the protein formed during normal blood clotting. If fibrin builds up in the peritoneal catheter, it can block the flow of dialysis fluid into and out of your abdomen.

Precautions: If you're injured, tell the emergency team that you're taking blood thinners.

Calcium supplements

Common choices: Calcium acetate (PhosLo), calcium carbonate (Tums, Os-Cal 250, others).

Why you need them: To control the level of calcium in your blood and promote strong bones.

Precautions: For proper absorption, take calcium supplements between meals. Don't take calcium and iron supplements together.

Iron supplements

Common choices: Ferrous sulfate (Feosol, Slow Fe, others).

Why you need them: To increase the amount of iron in your bloodstream, which helps assure the production of red blood cells.

Precautions: For proper absorption, take iron supplements between meals. Don't take iron and calcium supplements together.

Phosphate binders

Common choices: Calcium acetate (PhosLo), sevelamer (Renagel).

Why you need them: To prevent the buildup of phosphorus in your blood. Too much phosphorus draws calcium from your bones and may lead to dangerous calcium deposits in your blood vessels, lungs, eyes and heart.

Precautions: Take phosphate binders with meals so that the medication can bind with the phosphorus in your food.

Stool softeners and laxatives

Common choices: Docusate sodium (Colace), polyethylene glycol 3550 (MiraLax), bisacodyl (Dulcolax).

Why you need them: To manage constipation.

Precautions: Avoid laxatives or enemas containing magnesium or phosphorus. These substances will be absorbed into your bloodstream.

Last Updated: 10/27/2006
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