Dialysis is a treatment that takes over the job of your kidneys when they fail. The kidneys perform many functions that help your body stay healthy. They help clear toxins out of your blood and help your body balance salt levels. Most people begin dialysis when their kidneys have lost 85%-90% of their ability. You may be on dialysis for a short time, or you may need it for the rest of your life.

If you have kidneys that are not working and the damage is not reversible, you have end stage renal disease (ESRD). ESRD is caused by conditions such as diabetes, kidney cancer, drug use, high blood pressure, or other problems. Dialysis is not a cure for ESRD, but it does help you feel better and live longer.

There are 2 types of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. This fact sheet will focus on hemodialysis.

Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • A drop in blood pressure during hemodialysis
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Infection
  • Feeling hot, sweaty, weak, and/or lightheaded
  • Inflammation of the heart sac—pericarditis
  • Neurological problems
  • Disruption of calcium and phosphorus balance, resulting in weakened bones

If you have heart problems, this may increase your risk of complications from hemodialysis.



This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.


The Kidney Dialysis Foundation http://www.kdf.org.sg 

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov 


Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca 

The Kidney Foundation of Canada http://www.kidney.ca 


Hemodialysis. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: http://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/hemodialysis.cfm. Accessed March 7, 2016.

Dialysis for end-stage renal disease. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900075/Dialysis-for-end-stage-renal-disease . Updated September 23 2016. Accessed October 10, 2016.

Treatment methods for kidney failure: Hemodialysis. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/hemodialysis. Updated June 2014. Accessed March 7, 2016.