7 Main Side Effects of Dialysis and How to Prevent Them

While dialysis is a life-saving treatment for end stage renal disease, it is often accompanied by side effects. Depending on the type of treatment; hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis; and severity of condition, a patient may require additional medical assistance or lifestyle changes to address one or more of the following.

Low Blood Pressure

Low blood pressure (also known as hypotension) is a common side effect of dialysis. It generally occurs when patients add too much fluid weight between treatments or when too much fluid is removed during dialysis. The best ways to limit the risks of dialysis-related low blood pressure are to follow fluid intake recommendations and avoid salty foods that can make you extra thirsty. If you feel nauseous or dizzy during a treatment, the dialysis machine can be adjusted for the right fluid removal level. If you take medication for high blood pressure, ask your doctor how and when you should take it while undergoing dialysis.

Nausea and Vomiting

Patients can feel nauseous or experience vomiting for a number of reasons during and after dialysis treatments. First of all, these symptoms are commonly associated with kidney disease. Add low blood pressure and fluid weight gain to the mix and they are much more likely. Unfortunately, nausea and vomiting are sometimes uncomfortable enough to cause some patients to avoid further dialysis treatments. This just makes matters worse. Talk to your dialysis team about any such symptoms. They may be able to better regulate fluid removal levels and/or prescribe anti-nausea medication. You should also closely follow all guidelines provided by your dietician.

Dry or Itchy Skin

Many dialysis patients experience dry or itchy skin, a condition believed to be related to build ups of phosphorous and potassium in the body. Following your dietician’s guidelines should limit your intake of these minerals. They may also recommend taking a phosphorous binder before meals. When and if you develop dry or itchy skin, a combination of non-drying soaps and standard moisturizing lotions should help. Avoid fragranced lotions as they can make skin more sensitive. You should also avoid excessively hot showers as they can further dry out your skin.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is another common side effect. People with RLS experience tingling, itchiness or discomfort in the legs or feet when relaxing or falling asleep. These sensations often cause the person to kick out or move their legs suddenly. Such motions usually relieve the discomfort but only temporarily. RLS is associated with conditions from kidney disease to vitamin B deficiency, so it’s important to see your doctor for a diagnosis. She may prescribe medications or home therapies such as massage, warm baths, compresses, exercise or relaxation techniques.

Muscle Cramps

Dialysis patients sometimes experience uncomfortable or even painful muscle cramps, most frequently in the lower legs. While muscle cramps can result from numerous factors, it is often the quick loss of fluid from the body or excessive loss of overall fluid that triggers them during dialysis. Stretching the muscles or applying hot packs are usually enough to relieve pain within a few minutes. In some cases, however, a prescription medication may be necessary to treat recurring episodes.


This is another possible problem when on peritoneal dialysis. The abdominal wall muscles can be weakened by the catheter. During dialysis the solution present on the abdominal cavity presses against the abdominal wall. This can lead to a tear and organs can be pushed through the tear. Surgery to repair this is the only solution. Patients should therefore avoid undue extertions which may strain the abdominal wall muscles.


The red blood cell volume in dialysis patients (especially hemodialysis patients) is often lower then normal. This is due to reduced levels of the hormone erythropoietin, which is produced by the kidneys and regulates red blood cell production. Medication to treat the anemia is commonly used by dialysis patients.