Hemodialysis works by removing blood from the body and having it flow across a special filter, along with solutions. The filter helps remove toxins. The blood is then returned to the body.

Hemodialysis requires special ways to access the blood in the blood vessels. Access may be needed on a short-term (temporary) or long-term (permanent) basis.

Different Types of Hemodialysis Access

At MedStar Union Memorial, our vascular specialists are experts in creating access for dialysis with reduced rates of infection.

Temporary access involves placing dialysis catheters (hollow tubes) into larger veins, usually in your neck, chest, or leg near the groin. They are most often used in emergencies for short periods. However, catheters called tunneled catheters can be used for weeks or even months.

Permanent access is created by surgically joining an artery to a vein, usually in the arm. This vein becomes thickened over time. To perform the dialysis, blood is removed and returned through the vein. There are two methods to create this access:

  • An artery and a vein are directly connected to each other called a fistula. Then, over a period of weeks or months, veins mature and enlarge enough to be used for dialysis. A fabricated bridge (arteriovenous graft or AVG) can connect the artery and vein. An AVG can be used for dialysis within several weeks.
  • Another form of dialysis is known as peritoneal dialysis. A permanent tube in the abdomen introduces fluid from dialysis through the membranes in the abdomen. The fluid is then flushed out every night or continuously during the day.

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