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A hemodialysis access, or vascular access, is a way to reach the blood for hemodialysis. The access allows blood to travel through soft tubes to the dialysis machine where it is cleaned as it passes through a special filter, called a dialyzer. An access is placed by a minor surgery. As a hemodialysis patient, your access is one of the following:
If your access is a fistula or graft, your nurse or technician will place two needles into the access at the beginning of each treatment. These needles are connected to soft tubes that go to the dialysis machine. Your blood goes to the machine through one of the tubes, gets cleaned in the dialyzer, and returns to you through the other tube. If your access is a catheter, it can be connected directly to the dialysis tubes without the use of needles.
A fistula should be considered the first choice for your access because it generally lasts longer and has fewer problems such as infections and clotting. However, some patients may not be able to receive a fistula because their blood vessels are not strong enough. A graft is considered the second choice for an access. Catheters are generally used as a temporary access, but sometimes they are permanent. Sometimes, it may be possible to switch to a fistula from another type of access. If you do not have a fistula, ask your dialysis care team if a switch would be possible for you.
Whether your access is a fistula, graft or catheter, you should make sure to take good care of it. Your dialysis care team will teach you the steps of good access care. The chart below gives you some general tips about everyday access care and how to prevent problems.
Your dialysis care team will check your access often to make sure it is working well. An access that is not working well can decrease the amount of dialysis you receive. Your dialysis care team will teach you how to check your fistula or graft at home each day. Here are some tips you should follow to help keep a fistula or graft working longer:
Sometimes, even when you are very careful, your access may clot or become infected. If an infection occurs, your doctor will order antibiotics for you. If your access develops a clot, you may need to go to the hospital for treatment. Removing the clot can usually be done on an outpatient basis, and you will not need to stay overnight.
See also in this A-Z guide:
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©2013 National Kidney Foundation. All rights reserved. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. No one associated with the National Kidney Foundation will answer medical questions via e-mail. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.