Two Challenges Every Kidney Patient Faces
In many ways, the gift of a kidney is more than just the gift of life, it is a gift of freedom – freedom to enjoy many of the things folks with functioning kidneys often take for granted, like the ability to enjoy a carefree meal at a restaurant or the ability to take a vacation with loved ones or to go home for Christmas holidays.
The National Kidney Foundation provides loads of information about kidney disease, prevention, transplantation and related topics. If you want to know more about all things kidney-related, www.kidney.org is an excellent place to start.
If you are interested in the real-life impact of kidney disease, here are just two of the major adjustments kidney patients must make every day:
When most people think of dialysis, they think of being hooked up to a machine at a hospital or other facility for hours at a time three times a week. While this is true for patients on hemodialysis, there is another option. Peritoneal dialysis involves injecting a sterile saline solution into the peritoneal cavity in the abdomen before bedtime. Toxins from the system then diffuse into the solution, which is flushed in the morning. This type of dialysis can be done at home.
Regardless of the form of dialysis patients opt for, the process itself—while certainly inconvenient—is not actually painful. Well, the surgery necessary to install a catheter or create a fistula is painful, and no one enjoys being poked by needles and having bandages ripped off several times a week, but in general it’s not the physical pain that makes dialysis burdensome.
It is important to understand that any form of dialysis is absolutely exhausting. Dialysis places the body under unusual stress which can be unbelievably tiring. Many dialysis patients adapt somewhat, but that exhaustion never quite goes away.
But what many folks on dialysis—especially younger patients—hate most about it is the fact that it limits the ability to travel and to be spontaneous. Peritoneal dialysis requires patients to maintain specialized equipment and large amounts of saline solution for use each and every night, so packing for a weekend jaunt can be complicated to the extreme. Patients who choose hemodialysis have to schedule travel well in advance in order to ensure there is a bed at a local facility, and even then they may find themselves bumped if the local facility needs the room at the last moment.
Yes, dialysis saves lives every day. But it also takes away some of the freedoms that make life enjoyable.
People on dialysis have to be very conscious of what they eat and drink every single day. Since the kidneys are no longer acting to maintain proper fluid balance, excess sodium can cause problems. What many people don’t realize is that controlling the intake of potassium, phosphorus and, to a lesser extent, calcium is also essential for any kidney patient.
Unfortunately, controlling phosphorus intake is not easy at all. While sodium content is present in the labeling for almost every commercially-available food product and is also available for many restaurants, few if any food manufacturers list the amount of phosphorous contained in their products. This can make avoiding high phosphorous foods difficult. And while potassium and calcium content is sometimes listed in food ingredients, these are rarely noted in prepared foods and never listed on restaurant menus.
For anyone who has ever counted calories or watched their intake of saturated fat in an effort to shed a few pounds, imagine the stakes being your life instead of your waistline and you’ll have an inkling of what the focus on diet is like for a kidney patient.
After dialysis, adapting to the necessary dietary restrictions can be one of the most challenging aspects to living with end-stage renal disease.
A Few More Things You Should Know
- Many dialysis patients are still able to work or go to school and can still enjoy many of their favorite pastimes.
- Although dialysis and the accompanying dietary restrictions are no fun, most folks actually feel much better on a controlled regimen, and it’s certainly preferable to suffering untreated renal disease.
- While travel can be difficult for patients on dialysis, the good news is that treatment is standardized and there are thousands of dialysis centers in the U.S. and around the world.
- Dialysis wreaks havoc on many patients’ sleep cycles. This is manageable, but it’s one of the big impacts on quality of life that most people don’t think of.
So in the end, dialysis is doable. It’s certainly better than the alternative. But it’s not the kind of thing anyone wants to spend the rest of their lives doing. So what is the answer? For anyone with end-stage renal disease, there’s only one: transplantation.