Side effects of hemodialysis


Fatigue, where you feel tired and exhausted all the time, is a common side effect in people who use either form of dialysis on a long-term basis.

Fatigue is thought to be caused by a combination of the:

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

You may want to talk to your dietitian to see if your diet can be adjusted to increase your energy levels.

Regular exercise may also help. If you’re fatigued and on dialysis, starting a programme of regular exercise can be difficult.

But if you persevere, you’ll probably find that exercising becomes easier with time.

Low-to-moderate aerobic exercise, such as cycling, running, walking or swimming, is best.

A GP or dialysis care team will be able to advise you about the type of exercise most suitable for you.

Low blood pressure

Low blood pressure (hypotension) is one of the most common side effects of haemodialysis.

It can be caused by the drop in fluid levels during dialysis. Low blood pressure can cause nausea and dizziness.

The best way to minimise these symptoms of low blood pressure is to keep to your daily fluid intake recommendations.

If your symptoms persist, you should consult your dialysis care team as the amount of fluid used during dialysis may need to be adjusted.


People receiving haemodialysis are at increased risk of developing sepsis (blood poisoning).

This is where bacteria enter the body and spread through the blood, potentially leading to multiple organ failure.

Warning symptoms include dizziness and a high temperature.

If you have a high temperature, phone your dialysis unit immediately for advice.

If you develop sepsis, you’ll need to be admitted to hospital and treated with injections of antibiotics.

Muscle cramps

During haemodialysis, some people experience muscle cramps, usually in the lower leg.

This is thought to be caused by the muscles reacting to the fluid loss that happens during haemodialysis.

Consult your dialysis care team if you have muscle cramps that become particularly painful. Medicine may be available to help you cope with the symptoms.

Itchy skin

Many people receiving haemodialysis experience itchy skin, caused by a build-up of minerals in the body between dialysis sessions.

Tell your care team if your skin becomes itchy. They may recommend creams to soothe and moisturise your skin.

Other side effects

Other side effects of haemodialysis can include:

  • difficulties falling asleep (insomnia) or staying asleep
  • bone and joint pain
  • loss of libido (sex drive) and erectile dysfunction
  • dry mouth
  • anxiety

There is evidence to suggest that having more regular haemodialysis at home could help to ease some of these side effects.