Side effects

Both haemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis cause side effects. This is due to two main reasons:

  • the way dialysis is carried out, and
  • the fact that dialysis can only compensate for the loss of kidney function to a certain extent.


Fatigue is a common side effect in people who have used both haemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis on a long-term basis. It is thought that fatigue arises from a combination of factors such as:

  • the loss of normal kidney function,
  • the effects that dialysis can have of on the body,
  • the dietary restrictions associated with dialysis, and
  • the overall stress and anxiety that many people with kidney failure experience.

There are a number of treatment options that may be of some use in helping to improve the symptoms of fatigue.

Firstly, you may want to consult your dietitian because your diet may need to be adjusted in order to boost your energy levels.

Secondly, research has shown that regular aerobic exercise can prove effective in improving the symptoms of fatigue.

Aerobic exercise is a type of low-to-moderate exercise that is designed to improve how your body makes use of exercise. Examples of aerobic exercise (apart  from aerobics) include:

  • cycling,
  • jogging,
  • walking, and
  • swimming.

You diabetic care team and/or your GP will be able to advise you about the type of exercise that is most suitable for you.

Side effects of haemodialysis

Low blood pressure

One of the most common side effects of haemodialysis is low blood pressure (hypotension). Low blood pressure can be caused by the drop in fluid levels that occurs during dialysis.

Low blood pressure can cause symptoms of:

  • nausea, and
  • dizziness.

The best way to help minimise the symptoms of low blood pressure is to ensure that you stick to your daily fluid intake recommendations. If symptoms of low blood pressure persist, you should  consult with your dialysis care team because the amount of fluid used during dialysis may need to be adjusted.

Muscle cramps

Some people experience muscle cramps, usually in the lower legs, during a haemodialysis session. It is thought that this is due to the muscles reacting to the fluid loss that occurs during haemodialysis.

If these muscle cramps become particularly troublesome, you should consult with your dialysis care team because medication may be available that can help you cope better with the symptoms.

Itchy skin

Many people receiving haemodialysis experience symptoms of itchy skin. It is though that this is due to a build up of potassium in the body. Making sure that you avoid potassium-rich food can be an effective way of helping to reduce the frequency and severity of this symptom.

Some people have also found that using moisturising cream can help to minimise the discomfort caused by itching.

Side effects of peritoneal dialysis


A common side effect of peritoneal dialysis is that the peritoneum becomes infected with bacteria (peritonitis). Peritonitis can occur if the dialysis equipment is not kept properly sterilised (free of germs). Bacteria that may be present on the equipment can be passed into the peritoneum.

Lack of appetite and nausea are the initial symptoms of peritonitis. These are quickly followed by abdominal pain. The pain usually begins as a dull ache in your abdomen before progressing into a steady, severe pain.

Other symptoms of peritonitis include:

  • vomiting,
  • chills (episodes of shivering and cold),
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38°C (100.4°F), or above,
  • rapid heartbeat (tachycardia),
  • feeling thirsty, and
  • not passing any urine, or passing much less than normal.

Peritonitis will need to be treated with injections of antibiotics (intravenous antibiotics). The antibiotics are usually injected directly into the tissue of the peritoneum.

The most effective way to prevent peritonitis developing is to make sure that you keep your dialysis equipment clean. You will be given training in how to do this.


A hernia occurs when an internal part of your body, such as an organ, pushes through a weakness in the muscle, or surrounding tissue wall. People using peritoneal dialysis have a greater risk of developing a hernia because holding fluid inside the peritoneal cavity for many hours places strain on the muscles of the abdomen.

The main symptom of a hernia is the appearance of a lump in your abdomen. The lump may be painless and only be discovered during a check-up.

In some people, certain activities can cause a hernia to become painful. These activities include:

  • bending over, 
  • lifting heavy objects,
  • coughing, and
  • having sex.

Surgery is usually needed to repair a hernia. During surgery, the surgeon will place the protruding intestine, or tissue, back into the abdominal wall. The muscles of the abdominal wall will then be strengthened by fixing a synthetic mesh to the muscles.

Last updated: 04 October 2011

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