Dialysis Side Effects


Dialysis is an important procedure that is designed to filter excess water and waste from the bloodstream of individuals who are suffering from kidney disease. The increase in diabetes and high blood pressure in our society has contributed to the recent rise in demand for renal therapies such as dialysis. The dialysis process typically requires long periods of treatment that occur many times each week. Patients and technicians should understand the dialysis side effects so that they are prepared for them when they occur.

Common Dialysis Side Effects

1) Low Blood Pressure – When the kidneys stop functioning properly, the body cannot eliminate fluid that it does not need from the bloodstream. Dialysis patients must be aware that they cannot continue to consume fluids like they did prior to developing end stage renal disease. This can be a difficult adjustment for people who are used to consuming however much fluid they wish. When a dialysis patient drinks more fluid than their body can use, they must have the extra fluid removed during their dialysis sessions. This usually means that the dialysis technician will need to increase the rate or duration of filtration. An overcompensation on the part of the dialysis team can leave the body in a fluid deficient state which results in symptoms of low blood pressure. Signs of low blood pressure are similar to those of alcohol intoxication and may include things like a light headed feeling or dizziness.

2) Nausea and Vomiting – This is another one of the common dialysis side effects that all patients will experience at some point in their treatment. A dialysis machine and the people who operate it are not as effective at managing the fluid filtration process as are healthy kidneys. There are times when the filtration rate is not quite agreeable to the body and can result in enough fluid imbalance to cause the body to react in uncomfortable ways. This can also happen when the patient consumes too much or too little fluid between sessions. If a patient is becoming uncomfortable during a dialysis treatment, the filtration settings may need to be adjusted in order to create a state of comfort. This is a good example of why it is important to continually gather feedback from patients on how they are feeling and whether or not anything can be done to ease the process.

3) Dry and Itchy Skin – Whenever fluid is being added to or removed from the body, the delicate balance of moisture can be disturbed. This is especially true in a dialysis patient who is constantly undergoing an intense process of changing fluid levels. The body of a healthy patient is extremely efficient at managing fluids in a way that ensures a steady state of fluid equilibrium. The wide fluctuations in fluid levels that a dialysis patient experiences result in dialysis side effects such as dry, flaky, scaly, and itchy skin. This occurs because the suppleness of the skin is dependent on an appropriate level of fluid in order to offset the moisture that it loses to the environment. The dialysis patient will often lose more fluid to the environment through the skin than they are able to immediately compensate for. In order to ease the discomfort of these types of symptoms, a dialysis patient is encouraged to keep a supply of moisturizing soaps and lotions on hand. If the dry skin progresses to something more severe such as eczema, then a topical medication may be needed.

4) Restless Leg Syndrome – This is a disorder of the nervous system that results in an irresistible urge to move the legs in order to end an uncomfortable or odd sensation. Of all the dialysis side effects, this can be one of the most difficult to deal with. Many dialysis patients develop a crawly or prickly feeling in their legs that is likely the result of a metabolic imbalance that is created by treatment. Studies have linked restless leg syndrome to deficiencies in iron, folate, and magnesium. Factors used to confirm the diagnosis include symptoms that are more severe at night, an irresistible urge to move the legs, sensations begin following a period of relaxation, and temporary relief from movement of the legs. If the symptoms are unbearable and cannot be attributed to a specific deficiency, then the dialysis patient may need to be put on medications in the dopamine agonist or opioid family.

5) Muscle Cramps – These are unpleasant or painful contractions of the muscles that may be the result of a metabolic imbalance as well. Many patients have described these symptoms as one of the more common dialysis side effects. It is believed that muscle cramps may be linked to deficiencies in sodium, potassium, and magnesium. The dialysis clinic staff may need to adjust a patient’s electrolytes in order to resolve the cramps. Patients may be required to increase fluid intake if the symptoms persist.


Some of the less common dialysis side effects include infection, sexual dysfunction, anxiety, depression, anemia, and weight gain. Dialysis patients require an access point at which the bloodstream can be diverted from the body so that it can be filtered by the dialysis machine. The access point may become infected or inflamed if it is not kept clean. It is very important for patients and staff to remain vigilant in preventing infections so that they do not lead to more severe health problems.

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