Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease that affects the connective tissue and is characterized by skin thickening and scarring. The excessive scar tissue can affect the function of multiple tissues and organs apart from the skin, including the lungs, heart, gastrointestinal tract, and kidneys.

Patients with kidney damage due to scleroderma, if extensive enough to prevents the kidneys from filtering the blood as needed, may require dialysis — of which there are two types. In extreme cases, a kidney transplant may also be necessary.

What is dialysis?

The kidneys perform many functions, but one of the most important is filtering the blood to remove waste products, chemicals and excess fluid. When a person’s kidneys are not working as they should, dialysis is used to filter the waste products and fluid from the blood using a machine.

There are two types of dialysis:

  • Peritoneal dialysis, which uses the lining of the abdomen as the filtering device. A small incision is made in the abdomen, and a small tube called a catheter is placed there to allow fluid transfer. Fluid is pumped into the abdomen through the catheter, where it absorbs waste from the small blood vessels there in a process that usually takes four to six hours. The fluid will later drain and be discarded, and replaced. The fluid exchange normally takes about 40 minutes, and there are two different ways (schedules) of doing this exchange: one involves several times each day, the other each night.
  • Hemodialysis is a procedure in which the patient’s blood is removed through a tube in the arm (much like giving blood) and passed through a machine that filters it to remove excess fluid and waste before returning it, through a different tube, back into the arm. The process takes several hours, and is usually done three times a week.

Both types of dialysis have pros and cons, and patients work with a care team to choose the treatment that is best suited to them. Hemodialysis is not a daily treat but requires a hospital or clinic visit, and usually last about four hours. Peritoneal dialysis can be done at home with equipment and training, but it must be done every day.

Dialysis for scleroderma

In scleroderma patients with impaired kidney function, dialysis may be necessary. About half of all scleroderma patients who require dialysis, however, recover kidney function within two years after the initial crisis. For others, a kidney transplant may be required. These patients will remain on dialysis while they wait to be matched to a kidney donor, and for a few months after transplant surgery to support the donated organ during recovery.

While on dialysis, it is important to maintain a heart healthy diet that is low in salts (potassium, sodium, and phosphorous) to minimize stress on the kidneys.

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Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.