Coping With The Top Five Side Effects of Dialysis

Thousands of dialysis patients experience side effects of treatment. Here's the National Kidney Foundation's list of the five most common side effects, along with advice on how to deal with them so that you can benefit from your dialysis treatment and avoid some of the discomfort.

  1. Low blood pressure is the most common side effect of dialysis, affecting one out of four patients at some point over the course of dialysis treatments. The two primary causes are gaining excess fluid weight between sessions and having a weak heart. In order to avoid excess fluid weight gain you should maintain a healthy fluid level by drinking no more than a quart of liquid in excess of what is discharged from the body daily and avoid salty foods which increase thirst. If you did gain excess fluid weight, discuss the issue with your dialysis team who can adjust the dialyzing time accordingly.
  2. Nausea and vomiting are associated with kidney disease in general but low blood pressure and excess fluid weight gain are also common causes. If experienced during a dialysis treatment, inform the nurse who can adjust the machine accordingly. If you're suffering from nausea at home, speak to your doctor about a prescription for anti-nausea medicine.
  3. Dry or itchy skin is experienced by many patients undergoing dialysis, especially in the winter. Use soaps which don't dry out skin as much, such as Ivory soap, and plain moisturizing lotions, such as Vaseline or Eucerine. Take care to avoid fragrance lotions which may sensitize the skin further. In some cases, itchy skin can escalate into eczema, a white, scaly, itchy thickening of the skin, which should be discussed with your doctor who can prescribe a topical medicine.
  4. Restless leg syndrome is another common side effect that causes patients to keep moving their legs as a result of the leg nerves and muscles creating a crawly or prickly sensation. Restless leg syndrome can be tied to some forms of kidney disease, diabetes, hardening of the arteries, or a vitamin B deficiency, so it's important to speak to your doctor for a diagnosis and a prescription which will address the specific cause.
  5. Muscle cramping causes extreme discomfort to many patients. Since the cause of this side effect is unknown, the issue can only be addressed symptomatically. Doctors advise either stretching the cramping muscle to release the pain or applying hot packs to the affected area in order to increase circulation. Some medications may help but these should be discussed with your physician.