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What is dialysis?

A life-support therapy called dialysis may be needed to treat the complications of kidney failure. Dialysis takes over the function of the kidneys and purifies the blood. It gives the kidneys a period of rest, providing them with time to recover.

The type of dialysis used for critical care patients is known as hemodialysis.

  • In hemodialysis therapy, a large intravenous line is inserted in a central vein, in the neck or upper thigh;
  • Blood is then removed from the patient and passed through a dialysis machine. This machine purifies or "cleans" the blood;
  • The "cleaned" blood is then returned to the individual through another branch of the same intravenous line;
  • This therapy is usually delivered at the bedside on a continuous basis.

Why has my loved one developed a kidney problem?

Paper with kidney failure and pillsIt is fairly common to develop a kidney problem during a critical illness. It’s called an acute kidney injury or AKI.

The problem is usually caused by an inadequate amount of oxygen-rich blood being delivered to the kidneys.

This type of injury is often reversible and the kidneys can return to normal.

What can be done to help the kidneys recover?

There are no specific therapies that help the kidneys recover more quickly. So, treatment focuses on two main goals:

  • Prevent further injury by improving blood and oxygen supply to the kidneys and avoiding additional damage;
  • Prevent and treat complications of reduced kidney function, such as the accumulation of toxins, salt, water, acids and other electrolytes such as potassium.

Are there any risks involved in hemodialysis?

As with all invasive treatments, there are risks associated with hemodialysis.

  • There is a risk of bleeding and infection when putting in and maintaining the intravenous line;
  • As blood is removed from the body, a drop in blood pressure can occur.

The critical care and nephrology teams work together to minimize the potential risks.

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Location and contact

Critical Care Medicine

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
2075 Bayview Avenue, 
D-wing, 1st floor
room D1 08
Toronto, ON M4N 3M5

Phone: 416-480-4522
Fax: 416-480-4999

For information about patients admitted to Sunnybrook's Intensive Care Units, please contact the unit through the hospital switchboard at 416-480-6100