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Understanding kidneys and dialysis

October 26, 2021

Renal Heart and Vascular Diabetes
Renal dialysis patient has care review with doctor and nurse

Kidneys play an important role in our bodies. You have two kidneys, each approximately the size of a fist. They are located along the spine just below your rib cage. While we are born with two kidneys, we can get by with one functioning kidney.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, we rely on our kidneys to do many things, including:

  • Filter our blood, keeping some compounds and removing others
  • Remove waste and excess fluids
  • Control the production of red blood cells
  • Make vitamins that control growth
  • Release hormones that regulate blood pressure
  • Regulate red blood cells and the number of key nutrients in the body such as calcium and potassium

Causes of kidney disease

Kidney disease occurs frequently — one in three Americans are at risk. The most common causes of kidney disease include:

Other causes include infections, kidney stones, inherited conditions, diseases such as systemic lupus, and overuse of certain medications, including over-the-counter pain killers and illegal drugs, such as heroin. 

Signs of possible kidney disease

Several symptoms can indicate possible kidney disease. These signs include:

  • Tiredness and having less energy than normal 
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dry and itchy skin
  • Needing to urinate often
  • Blood in your urine
  • Urine appears foamy
  • Puffiness around your eyes
  • Swelling of your feet and ankles
  • Poor appetite
  • Cramping muscle

“If you are experiencing symptoms that make you suspect you may be having problems with your kidneys, you should call your physician and be seen for a thorough evaluation,” says Melisha Bissram, M.D., a nephrologist (kidney specialist), with Riverside Renal Specialists. “It is better to be seen sooner rather than later so that if there is a problem, we can start treatment before getting to the point of kidney failure.”

When kidneys fail

If your kidneys fail, you may need to turn to dialysis while the kidneys either recover or to wait for a kidney transplant.

During dialysis, a machine performs or helps your body perform the function that your kidneys usually do — filtering and removing fluids and minerals from the blood.

The two main types of dialysis are:

  • Hemodialysis. During this type of dialysis, your blood will flow through a machine, known as a dialyzer, and then back into your body. Before the first treatment, most patients have an outpatient surgical procedure to establish a permanent port access for the dialysis. Your nephrologist will work with your vascular surgeon to determine the best type of port access for your care. Patients who undergo hemodialysis usually receive treatment at a center three times a week for three to five hours each time.  Patients who undergo hemodialysis at home often have daily treatments for two to three hours each time.
  • Peritoneal dialysis. During this type of dialysis, a sterile cleansing fluid is put into your abdomen through a catheter. Your blood flows through the lining of your abdomen, known as the peritoneum, and once the blood is filtered, the fluid is removed. While this type of dialysis can allow for greater freedom and independence, not everyone who needs dialysis can use peritoneal dialysis.

Talk to your physician

If you have signs or symptoms of kidney problems, it is important to see your primary care provider. If you do not have a primary care provider, call 757-534-5352 to make an appointment at a Riverside Primary Care practice near you. Your primary care doctor may refer you to a kidney specialist. Patients who require dialysis are often referred to vascular specialists to establish permanent ports.  

To make an appointment with Riverside Renal Specialists, call 757-873-1009. To make an appointment with a vascular surgeon at Riverside Vascular Specialists, call 757-534-5340.

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