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What a shorter dialysis time can mean for you

Your hemodialysis treatments only replace a small part of the normal function of your kidneys. It’s usually less than 5% to 10% of your healthy kidney function. How often you have hemodialysis and how long each session takes is different for everyone. This may also change over time. If you have questions about how much time you spend having hemodialysis, talk with your healthcare provider.

If you have the right amount of dialysis, you will:

  • feel well
  • have a good appetite with a normal weight for you
  • feel like you don’t need dialysis even on the day you go for your next treatment
  • notice your skin looks healthier and less yellow

If you don’t get enough dialysis treatment, you may have extra fluid that stays in your body and causes swelling you’ll see in your legs and arms. This is called fluid overload. Your blood also holds on to more of your body’s waste products, making it more likely that you'll feel sick. Too much of your body’s waste products in your blood is called uremia.

Uremia and fluid overload can cause:

  • you to feel weak and tired all the time
  • shortness of breath
  • high blood pressure between dialysis treatments
  • blood pressure to go down or drop during dialysis
  • inflammation of the heart muscle (swelling, redness, soreness)
  • higher risk for infection
  • problems with bleeding
  • poor appetite, nausea, and real weight loss
  • inability to tolerate exercise
  • a bitter taste in your mouth
  • yellow skin
  • itchy skin

Your health—and your life—depend on you getting the right amount of dialysis.

It is important you stay on dialysis for the full time you were prescribed.

It’s easy to think that coming off dialysis a few minutes early won’t matter. If you ask to come off early once, it can often happen more than once. When you shorten your dialysis treatment it will harm your body over time because you're not getting enough dialysis.

When you have a serious kidney problem, dialysis helps to do the work your kidneys used to do to keep you alive and well. Not getting enough time on dialysis or missing a treatment may have a serious impact on your overall health. More stress is added to your body that is already weaker. This can lead to a shorter life.

This is why it’s a good idea to get to your treatment on time and why the dialysis staff encourage you to stay on dialysis for your full run. It is for your best health and well-being.

While you and your doctor decide if a kidney transplant is a treatment option for you it’s important that you follow your dialysis treatment plan. If you’re already on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, you’ll be in much better health when it’s time for the transplant if you keep up your dialysis treatment. If you find it hard to keep your dialysis appointments, ask your healthcare team if home dialysis is a good option for you.

People who get enough dialysis should be able to look forward to doing many of the things that they planned to do before they had kidney disease.

Time lost when you shorten your treatment

The chart below shows how many hours you lose each year when you stop a dialysis treatment early. Every minute of dialysis counts.

Dialysis time lost with shortened treatments 

Minutes shorter per treatment Minutes of treatment lost
per week
Minutes of treatment lost
per month
Minutes of treatment lost​
per year
         Hours lost
per year
13131562.6 hours
39394687.8 hours
5156578013 hours
10301301,56026 hours
15451952,34039 hours
20602603,12052 hours
25753253,90065 hours
30903904,68078 hours

Adapted with permission from the Southern California Renal Disease Council, Inc. ESRD Network 18.

Current as of: November 30, 2020

Author: Medicine SCN (Kidney Health Section) Alberta Health Services