If I Had Kidney Failure, Which Dialysis Treatment Would I Choose?

Written by Robert Provenzano, M.D., F.A.C.P.

How often are nephrology healthcare professionals, nephrologists, dietitians, nurses or technicians, asked the question, “If you had kidney failure, which dialysis treatment would you choose?” More often than we may realize. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients who need dialysis frequently reach out to their healthcare team, grasping for the “right choices.” What do I tell the patient? Some doctors may not have thought about what therapy they would want if they required dialysis. And other healthcare professionals may wonder if they have the right to share their thoughts with patients. Many questions are out there, so I will share with you my perspective when asked this question. 

Dialysis treatment choices

There are several dialysis modalities available to patients with chronic kidney disease or end stage renal disease (ESRD).

So what do you choose? How do you choose? In conversations with my patients I often focus not on the modality, but on the person’s lifestyle. Decisions about dialysis treatment selection must be based on keeping patients feeling as independent as possible and in control of their therapy. That judgment can be made only with an intimate knowledge of the patient, their family structure and family support systems. Knowledge of their transportation needs and social situation is also important. I ask questions such as: 

  • Do you work?
  • Do you travel?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • Are you a proactive type of person?
  • Are you compliant with your medicines and chronic kidney disease care?
  • Do you accept responsibility for your care? 

All of these questions must be considered when assisting the patient in the decision-making process. 

There are pros and cons of each therapy. Some issues that come up are whether or not a patient is living with other health conditions, has transportation or if a certain treatment even fits into their social life. 

A look at traditional in-center hemodialysis

The majority of patients select traditional in-center hemodialysis. This therapy is often best for patients who are relatively dependent. All the patient needs do is get to dialysis (and for those with transportation needs, the social worker can work to secure help traveling to and from their treatments). A nurse will place the needles, administer the person’s treatment and discharge the patient. This type of treatment can fit into many patients’ lifestyle.

The dialysis center is a structured environment where patients know precisely how much time and on what days they will receive therapy. On non-dialysis days, the patients’ only responsibility is taking their medicines and adhering to their fluid restrictions. This treatment choice is viewed as advantageous for those patients who require a structured environment or have compliance trouble. The downside is there are strict dietary and fluid restrictions patients have to stick to.

A look at nocturnal in-center hemodialysis 

The advantage of nocturnal in-center hemodialysis, dialyzing while asleep at a center, is that this treatment almost doubles the amount of therapy provided by traditional day-time hemodialysis. Patients have their days free and a more liberal diet and less fluid restriction. The disadvantages are that they must agree to 7 to 8 hours of treatment three times a week, spend time away from home and be comfortable sleeping in a new environment.

A look at peritoneal dialysis (PD)

Peritoneal dialysis (PD) is a home therapy that requires dedication and active participation by the patient. Patients who choose PD tend to have “take charge” personalities. Most patients who choose to PD place themselves on an automatic peritoneal dialysis (APD) machine, also called a cycler, each night. This therapy is usually performed while the patient sleeps, but it is a daily therapy rather than just three times per week. Additionally, the patient should understand that PD works if the patient works with the healthcare team and is able to follow the team’s advice and treatment program. A person who chooses PD needs to pay attention to things and communicate any problems or changes to the doctor or nurse. One advantage of PD is the patient does not have to travel back and forth to a dialysis center, except to visit his or her kidney care team once a month. Also, patients have a more liberal diet with less fluid restriction. Because PD patients are not obligated to a center’s schedule, they are generally much freer to travel. And if a patient has some residual kidney function, PD may be the best treatment to help preserve kidney function – this is important for overall health.

A look at home hemodialysis (HHD)

The other home therapy is home hemodialysis (HHD). The advantages of home hemodialysis are similar to peritoneal dialysis, such as more liberal fluid and diet compared to traditional in-center hemodialysis, control over their treatments and when they perform them. The patient does have to go through an extensive training process and is required to have a care partner with them when performing HHD. One important aspect is a patient must be comfortable placing their own needles. 

Which dialysis treatment would I choose? 

How a healthcare team professional answers “Which dialysis therapy would you choose if you required dialysis?” has to depend on his or her lifestyle and circumstances. So let me answer the question for myself. Because of my busy and changing schedule, I would choose home hemodialysis. My down time, when I am at home reading and relaxing, could be spent dialyzing 2-1/2 to 3 hours, 5 or 6 times each week. I would have no restriction on my fluids, I would remain independent and because of technology and the unobtrusive dialysis equipment, my home would not look like a hospital room. 

Conclusion

I would encourage my fellow dialysis healthcare teammates to go through the above exercise, know which dialysis modality you would want, and once you are comfortable share your thoughts when a patient asks you, “If you had kidney failure, which dialysis treatment would you choose?”

About Dr. Provenzano

Robert Provenzano, M.D., F.A.C.P., is Vice President of Medical Affairs at DaVita Inc. and Chief of Nephrology at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit.


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