Hemodialysis is a balancing and filtering treatment, which uses a filter called a dialyzer and a hemodialysis machine. Hemodialysis treatment functions as an artificial kidney to rid your body of harmful wastes, extra salt and water. During treatment, blood travels outside of the body and passes through the filter and machine where it is cleaned and then returned to your body.

What to Expect

To prepare your body for hemodialysis, your doctor will surgically create a vascular access to your bloodstream. This access will provide an efficient way for blood to exit and enter your body without causing discomfort. Your doctor is likely to suggest creating either a fistula or a graft, as they are the two most common types of accesses:

A Fistula

A fistula is the preferred method and is made by surgically joining an artery to a vein under the skin in your forearm. This produces a strong vessel that can withstand repeated needle insertions and allow blood to pass through at high volumes.

A Graft

A graft uses a synthetic tube to connect an artery to a vein under the skin of your forearm. A graft does not require as much time to heal and develop as a fistula, but is not the preferred method as infection and clotting are common risks.

With both fistula and graft access, hemodialysis treatment is performed in the same way; two needles are inserted into the access for the blood to be withdrawn, filtered and returned to your body.


Hemodialysis treatments are typically scheduled for four hours each session and are administered three times per week. It is important to take in to consideration the time required to travel to and from your scheduled appointments and your overall treatment time.

At Mount Baker Kidney Center, we offer hemodialysis home treatment and have 26 in-center hemodialysis stations. Our in-center patients typically find that their treatment time is ideal for catching up on rest, reading or watching television.


The combination of hemodialysis treatment and a properly regulated diet will reduce the waste build up in your blood. There are general diet recommendations associated with hemodialysis. Your Mount Baker Kidney Center health care team of nurses and dietitians will address any specific dietary concerns as it pertains to your hemodialysis treatment.

  • You will need to closely monitor your fluid intake and water retention
  • A high protein diet is required to replace proteins lost during treatment
  • Reduce and monitor salt, potassium and phosphorus

Possible Complications

Complications with hemodialysis are most frequently associated with the vascular access. The most common problems are infection, blockage from clotting and poor blood flow. Problems associated with your fistula or graft may require additional surgeries in order to have a properly working access.

Other discomforts experienced during hemodialysis are cramping and hypertension. Cramping is experienced as a side effect from changes in your body’s fluid levels. Hypertension can make you feel weak, dizzy or sick to your stomach as your blood pressure rapidly drops.

Hemodialysis will likely take you a few months to adjust to. The side effects are often easily and quickly treatable by your health care team through fluid and diet modification.