Five Myths About Dialysis

People with end stage renal disease (ESRD) may require dialysis, treatments that replace kidney function by removing wastes and excess fluid from the body. While the life-saving nature of dialysis is undisputed, several myths may contribute to common misconceptions about the burden of being on dialysis. Here are five of those myths and the truths behind them.

Myth 1: Dialysis isn’t for someone who fears needles. 

FALSE! Fear of needles and the pain associated with needle sticks is common for patients. To ease your fear, medications are available to numb the skin prior to inserting the needle. You can apply a numbing cream over your vascular access (the area that allows your blood to travel to and from the dialysis machine to remove toxins from the body) about one hour before your treatment. Lidocaine, a local anesthetic, may be an option used by your center.

If your access is an arteriovenous (AV) fistula, needles are inserted in the exact same site every treatment, which creates a tunnel similar to a pierced ear. This site is called a buttonhole and once established, needle insertion becomes less painful.

Another way for patients to ease their fear of needles is self-cannulation. Your dialysis care team can teach you how to self-cannulate, which is inserting needles into your own access. Gaining control over the procedure may also make you more comfortable with it. Finally, peritoneal dialysis (PD) is a form of home dialysis that does not use needles. This treatment is explained in more detail below.

Myth 2: Dialysis isn’t affordable

FALSE! In 1972, the United States Congress passed legislation to extend Medicare coverage to Americans of any age with ESRD. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) established coverage to anyone who:

  • Has worked long enough to earn a minimum number of credits toward retirement under Social Security, the Railroad Retirement Board or as a government employee,
  • Is already getting or is eligible for Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits, or
  • Is the spouse or dependent child of a person who meets either of the requirements listed above.

The social worker at the dialysis center can explain and help you obtain Medicare coverage, assist you with getting secondary insurance or other financial assistance and answer additional questions.

Myth 3: Dialysis can be done only at a center 

FALSE! In-center hemodialysis is just one of several dialysis treatment options and it too offers a variety of choices, such as in-center self care and in-center nocturnal dialysis. However, an increasing number of patients are choosing to dialyze at home. Listed below are home treatment options and descriptions of how each might suit the different needs and lifestyle of a patient.

  • Peritoneal dialysis (PD): PD is the most common type of home dialysis. It works by using the peritoneal membrane to filter the waste and fluid from your bloodstream. The peritoneal membrane is a thin membrane that lines the abdomen. No needles are involved as the dialysis solution is instilled into the abdomen through a permanent catheter. PD can be done in two ways:
    • Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis (CAPD) involves patients manually performing fluid exchanges into the abdomen, usually four times per day.
    • Continuous Cycling Peritoneal Dialysis (CCPD) involves a machine called a cycler to perform the exchanges. The patient connects to the cycler in the evening, and fluid is exchanged in and out of the abdomen during sleep. Some patients will also perform an exchange during the day. The cycler is small enough to be taken along on trips and tends to be an excellent therapy for active people who like to travel.
  • Home hemodialysis (HHD): Home hemodialysis uses a hemodialysis machine to clean the blood the same way as it’s done in a center but from the comfort of a patient’s home. HHD can be done in two ways, both of which require assistance from a care partner:
    • Traditional home hemodialysis is performed three times per week for three to four hours per day. When short daily HHD became available, the majority of HHD patients switched to that option instead of traditional treatment.
    • Short daily home hemodialysis treatments are usually done six times per week with shorter treatment times, ranging from two to three hours. Because treatments are done more frequently, patients report improved well-being and improved energy levels. In addition, the dialysis machine used is small enough to be taken along when traveling.

DaVita’s Treatment Evaluator can help determine which treatment option may best match your lifestyle. Take the results to your doctor to discuss further when choosing your dialysis treatment.

Myth 4: People on dialysis can no longer travel

FALSE! You can still soak up the sun, camp, visit family or travel for work with some advance planning and dialogue between you, your doctor, nurse and social worker. Patients on hemodialysis can arrange treatments at a center at their planned vacation destination. Patients on PD can have supplies directly delivered to wherever they are going. Follow the guidelines of this travel checklist to make traveling on dialysis an easier process. You can also call DaVita Guest Services to help with dialysis plans while traveling at 1-800-244-0680.

Myth 5: There are too many things to learn about dialysis 

FALSE! While there are many things to learn, whatever your treatment choice, there is an entire kidney healthcare team, including nephrologists, nurses, dietitians, social workers, care technicians and others, to support you throughout the dialysis process. Here are some ways they help:

  • Educating patients about ESRD and dialysis treatment options
  • Helping patients cope emotionally
  • Mapping out a treatment plan for specific needs
  • Prescribing a kidney diet and helping choose kidney-friendly foods
  • Helping patients apply for insurance and financial assistance
  • Connecting patients with support groups
  • Scheduling dialysis treatments if patients decide to travel
  • Providing in-depth training programs with close supervision and plenty of opportunities to practice for patients and their care partners who choose dialyzing at home

In addition, has a wealth of education articles that cover CKD, ESRD, dialysis, diet and nutrition, diabetes and more.


The best way to deal with ESRD and dialysis is to know the facts. You’ve uncovered the truth behind five common myths that can alleviate stress, help you choose the better treatment option and improve your quality of life.

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