End-Stage Renal Failure Treatment Options: Dialysis or Kidney Transplant

Date: Mar 14, 2019

Kidney empasisYour kidneys are small but mighty organs tasked with the job of filtering 200 quarts of blood and about two quarts of waste and water every day — all in an effort to keep your body running smoothly.

When your kidneys aren’t working as well as they should – because of a chronic disease or acute illness – waste can back up into your body. Chronic kidney disease, which affects nearly 30 million Americans, can also put you at higher risk for serious issues, including heart attack and stroke.

There are many stages and treatment options for individuals managing kidney disease – from antibiotics to treat infections, to minimally invasive options when the disease is in its early stages, to complex surgical procedures, such as kidney transplants, during end-stage renal failure. End-stage renal failure is the last stage of chronic kidney disease.

What is end-stage renal failure?

End-stage renal failure, or kidney failure, is the last stage of chronic kidney disease. It means that one or both of your kidneys no longer function on their own.

Kidney failure is generally a gradual process, one your doctor will be monitoring closely. You will be officially diagnosed with the disease when you lose about 85 – 90 percent of kidney function, and when the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) falls below 15.

This can be a scary time for many patients and their families. Fortunately, today’s advances in medicine are delivering better treatments and outcomes for individuals with end-stage renal failure. The two most common treatment options are dialysis or kidney transplant.

What is dialysis?

Dialysis is a life-saving treatment process that helps the body remove waste and water from the blood. A machine does the work of your kidneys and prevents salt and water buildup, controls blood pressure, and maintains the minerals your body needs in the bloodstream.

Dialysis is an ongoing treatment. There are two main types of dialysis: hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.


During hemodialysis, blood is passed from the body through a set of tubes to a special filter called a dialyzer. Once the blood passes through the filter, the cleansed blood is returned to the body through another set of tubes.

Hemodialysis treatments are usually administered three times per week as an outpatient at a dialysis center. Each session can last from two to four hours.

Peritoneal Dialysis

Peritoneal dialysis uses the lining of your stomach to filter blood. A sterile solution (dialysate) with minerals and glucose runs through a tube into the peritoneal cavity (the space between the abdominal walls).

This cleansing fluid stays in the peritoneal cavity for a few hours to absorb waste products and fluids from your body. Then, it is drained out by a tube and into a separate bag. This process is done several times throughout each day.

There are two types of peritoneal dialysis: continuous cycling peritoneal dialysis (CCPD) and continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD). Your doctor will help you to decide which approach is best. Both types of peritoneal dialysis are done at home.

Kidney Transplant

A kidney transplant is another option for individuals with end-stage renal failure. This surgical procedure removes the kidneys that are no longer functioning and replaces them with one healthy kidney. (Our bodies only need one healthy kidney to effectively filter waste and water from the blood).

The main advantage of a kidney transplant is quality of life: Individuals who undergo a kidney transplant are usually able to return to a normal, active lifestyle. In fact, many find themselves enjoying things they never were able to before the transplant, such as travel, exercise, and more time with family and friends.

A transplant improves your kidney health and your overall health and wellness. Many find they have more energy, a stronger appetite, and are better able to manage chronic health conditions. They also no longer need dialysis.

Kidneys for transplantation come from two sources: living donors and deceased (non-living) donors. Living donation is possible because a person can live well with one healthy kidney.

What end-stage treatment option is best for me?

You, your doctor, and your family should talk openly and honestly about which option is best to treat your end-stage renal failure. Your doctor can provide important information about the risks and benefits of each treatment, and how they may impact your health and condition. Your family, a social worker, or a therapist can help you weigh the emotional, mental, and physical toll of dialysis or transplant.

Every individual’s path to treating end-stage renal failure looks a little different. The best news is that, with today’s technology, research, and ongoing support, you have more options – and opportunities – to enjoy a healthy, fulfilling life.

About Emory Dialysis Center

Emory Dialysis operates three state-of-the-art dialysis clinics located across Atlanta. Patients have access to Emory’s world-renowned physicians and clinical staff, including nurses, technicians, dietitians, and social workers. We offer a full range of dialysis modalities, including in-center hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis, and training services for home hemodialysis. To learn more, visit Emory Dialysis.

About Emory Kidney Transplant

Emory Transplant Center performed Georgia’s first kidney transplant in 1966 and currently ranks as one of the most prestigious transplant programs in the country. Our team of specialists is highly skilled in the care of kidney transplant patients and will work with you every step of the way to ensure quality care and service. To date, Emory has performed more than 5,000 adult kidney transplants. To learn more, visit Emory’s Kidney Transplant Program.

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