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Dialysis Terminology: The Basics

Updated on February 16, 2017
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Dominique earned an MBA at Keller Graduate School of Management and is now creating a new blog site to offer insight into embracing ifel

Dialysis Terms

  • Access: the place on the body that lead directly to the bloodstream for use during a hemodialysis treatment; there are three major types--fistula, graft, and venous catheter (a tube, or catheter, used temporarily if there's no time to get a permanent access and is usually placed in a vein in the neck, chest, or groin)

  • Fistula: a hemodialysis access that is created by joining an artery and vein together surgically so that the vein enlarges because of the added blood flow from the artery; this helps the blood vessel better withstand the pressure within it due to the dialysis treatment

  • Graft: the surgical placement of a material between an artery and a vein so that it can be used as a hemodialysis access to the bloodstream

  • Vein: blood vessels that carry blood from other parts of the body and back to the heart

  • Artery: a blood vessel that carries oxygen-rich blood away from the heart and to other parts of the body

  • Anticoagulant: a medication that slows, or delays blood clotting; necessary during hemodialysis so that the blood doesn't clot during a treatment; a common one used for hemodialysis is Heparin

  • Anti-hypertensive: also known as blood pressure medication; used for lowering and/or regulating blood pressure

  • Blood pressure: the pressure that blood exerts on the walls of the blood vessels and is expressed in two numbers, such as 120/70; the systolic, or top, number is the pressure when the heart is contracting (pumping) and the diastolic, or bottom, number is the pressure when the heart is at rest; it is measured by a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure machine); for an adult, on average, the normal systolic number is 120 or lower and diastolic is below 80

  • Low blood pressure: also known as hypotension; occurs when the blood pressure drops below90 (top number) over 60 (bottom number); dizziness or fainting may occur and it could be dangerous on hemodialysis

  • High blood pressure: also known as hypertension; when the pressure in the blood vessels is elevated; high blood pressure is diagnosed when the pressure runs regularly, or often at 140/90 or above

  • BUN: blood urea nitrogen; a combination of waste products, nitrogen and urea, in the blood that are normally excreted by the kidneys; the level in the blood can be a measure of kidney function and is one of the monthly blood lab tests drawn for hemodialysis patients; the normal range is 10-20 (when given the results, a number will be given) in adults and5-18 in children

  • Waste products: substances created from the breakdown of protein and from normal muscle activity

  • Urea: made when protein is broken down in the body and is made in the liver and passed out of your body in the urine; considered a waste product that is removed by hemodialysis


More Important Dialysis Terms

Hemodialysis/dialysis: Removal of excess fluids, toxins and waste products by passage of blood through an artificial kidney; can be used to extend life and improve quality of life; only performs about 10% of normal kidney function; a process that uses a man-made membrane (dialyzer) to:

  1. Remove waste products from the blood like urea

  2. Restore the proper balance of electrolytes in the blood

  3. Eliminate extra fluid from the body

  • Artificial kidney: also known as a dialyzer; a filtering device used with a dialysis machine to remove waste products and excess fluids from the blood/body

  • Dialysate: sodium containing water and electrolytes that passes through the dialyzer and removes excess fluids and waste products from the blood/body

  • Electrolytes: allow the cells to generate energy and maintain the stability of the cells' walls; important ones include sodium (Na); potassium (K); and chloride (Cl)

  • Blood flow rate (BFR): on hemodialysis, the rate at which the blood is pumped through the dialyzer

  • Blood chemistries: measurements of certain chemicals in the blood such as BUN, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, albumin, total protein, hematocrit (HCT), and hemoglobin

  • Albumin: the main protein in blood

  • Hematocrit: the ratio of red blood cells to whole blood

  • Hemoglobin: red protein portion of red blood cells which carries oxygen from lungs to body tissues

  • Anemia: a condition in which there's fewer red blood cells than normal; red blood cells to carry less oxygen to the body, particularly the brain and heart, so that they may not function as well as they should and/or need to

  • Red blood cells: carries oxygen to tissues and organs and enable them to use energy from food

  • Blood pump: a pump that moves the patient's blood from their body through their access into tubing, through the dialyzer and back to the body without damaging the blood cells

  • Bruit: (pronounced "brew-ee"); the sound produced by the blood flowing through a fistula or graft; should also be able to feel it if touching the access area which is called the thrill

  • Clearance: rate that waste products are removed from the blood through dialysis and expressed as milliliters per minute; a blood test will tell the doctors what clearances are

  • KT/V: (Kay-tee over vee); clearance times time over volume--a measurement that indicates how well dialysis has removed waste products from the blood

  • URR: percentage based on how much BUN was removed during a dialysis treatment; used as an Indication of how effectively urea and other waste products have been removed; done with a blood test that is usually performed at the dialysis center monthly

  • Kilogram: one kilogram (kg) equals 2.2 pounds; this is how weights will be measured at dialysis

  • Dry weight: the weight a person on dialysis achieves after removing excess fluid

  • Edema: swelling or puffiness that is a result of a build-up of excess fluid in body tissues that is most noticeable in the ankles, hands, and face

  • Fluid overload: the point where excess fluid in the body causes edema, high blood pressure difficulty breathing, and/or extra strain on the heart

  • Liter: the basic liquid measure approximately equal to a quart, or four cups; 1 liter =1,000cc; 1 liter = approximately 4 cups; 1 liter = 1,000ml; 1kg = 1,000ml; 1 liter = approximately 33.5oz

  • Nephrologist: medical doctor that specializes in the kidneys and kidney disorders

Blood Pressure Machine


It is very important to understand the terms that you will be hearing as you embark on this new chapter in your life. Don't forget to ask questions of your medical professionals whenever they arise because they will have the most relevant and accurate information. And remember...the only stupid question is the one you don't ask. And if you are wondering something, no doubt there is someone else who is wondering, too. So don't be afraid to ask.


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