Dialysis Services at Northwestern Medicine

Dialysis is a procedure that is performed routinely on people who suffer from acute or chronic renal, or kidney, failure. The process involves removing waste substances and fluid from the blood that are normally eliminated by the kidneys. Dialysis may also be used for individuals who have been exposed to or ingested toxic substances to prevent renal failure from occurring.

People with certain conditions or health concerns, such as people who require dialysis, have increased risk of more severe illness after contracting COVID-19. Learn about the latest information.

There are two types of dialysis:

Peritoneal dialysis

Peritoneal dialysis is performed by surgically placing a special, soft, hollow tube into the lower abdomen near the navel. After the tube is placed, a special solution called dialysate is instilled into the peritoneal cavity. The peritoneal cavity is the space in the abdomen that houses the organs and is lined by two special membrane layers called the peritoneum. The dialysate is left in the abdomen for a designated period of time that will be determined by your physician. The dialysate fluid absorbs the waste products and toxins through the peritoneum. The fluid is then drained from the abdomen, measured and discarded. There are two different types of peritoneal dialysis: continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) and continuous cyclic peritoneal dialysis (CCPD):

  • CAPD does not require a machine: Exchanges, often referred to as passes, can be done three to five times a day, during waking hours.
  • CCPD requires the use of a special dialysis machine that can be used in the home: This type of dialysis is done automatically, even during sleep.


Hemodialysis is performed in a dialysis center or hospital by trained healthcare professionals. A special type of access, called an arteriovenous (AV) fistula, is placed surgically, usually, in the arm. This involves joining an artery and a vein together. An external, central, intravenous (IV) catheter may also be inserted, but is less common for long-term dialysis.

After access has been established, the patient will be connected to a large hemodialysis machine that drains the blood, bathes it in a special dialysate solution that removes waste substances and fluid, then returns it to the bloodstream. Hemodialysis is usually performed several times a week and lasts for four to five hours. Because of the length of time hemodialysis takes, it may be helpful to bring games or reading materials for this procedure.

Home hemodialysis

Home hemodialysis (HHD) is a treatment option for patients who want to do dialysis sessions in the comfort of their homes or while traveling and on their schedules whenever it is most convenient. Northwestern Medicine professionals train patients before they begin at home, ensuring patients have all the confidence and skills needed. HHD also allows for more frequent dialysis and leads to many health benefits, including experiencing fewer symptoms between dialysis sessions. Treatment can be done safely during the day or overnight as you are sleeping. Overall, HHD is preferred by patients who value their freedom and those who want to continue working. For more information on home hemodialysis, please call 312.472.5200.

Watch how the Home Hemodialysis Program dramatically impacted a patient’s health and helped on her journey to receiving a kidney transplant.

Why choose Northwestern Medicine for dialysis services?

Every year, more than 60,000 people must begin dialysis because of kidney failure. Fortunately, innovative dialysis treatments can allow you to maintain an active and productive life. At Northwestern Medicine we offer the latest dialysis treatments delivered by skilled caregivers in a healing environment.

If you or someone you love has kidney failure, dialysis can be a lifesaving treatment option. We offer a caring, skilled medical staff and:

  • Innovative dialysis treatments, including outpatient peritoneal, home hemodialysis and outpatient hemodialysis
  • Modern patient clinic with multiple dialysis stations
  • Licensed certified social workers to assist with emotional, financial and transportation issues

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