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When Dialysis Ends: How Kidney Failure Symptoms Can Be Eased With Hospice Care

Doctor and patient discussing hospice for kidney failure

At the end of 2009, more than 871,000 people were being treated for kidney failure, also called end-stage renal disease.* Some kidney failure patients receive a transplant. Many opt for dialysis, sometimes receiving treatments for years. At some point, patients may wish to stop dialysis because they have concluded it is no longer improving or even maintaining their quality of life. It is at this point that patients and families consider hospice.

The first question these families have is, how long can a person with kidney failure live without dialysis? The answer varies with each patient, depending on the amount of kidney function, how severe the symptoms are and the patient’s overall medical condition.

Hospice Care and Kidney Failure

Hospice care team

Hospice improves the quality of the patient’s life while controlling symptoms. Working with the patient’s nephrologist or other physician, the hospice will develop a plan of care that manages the symptoms of kidney failure, including pain and stiffness as a result of fluid in the joints, fatigue, loss of appetite and nausea, itching (pruritus), difficulty breathing and sleeping, anxiety and depression.  In addition, hospice provides the resources to help patients and their loved ones maintain their emotional and spiritual well-being, as well as providing caregiver education and training.

Hospice Care at Home

While many patients with kidney failure spend their final days in the hospital, those who choose hospice care often have the option of receiving care wherever they call home, whether that is a private residence, assisted living community or nursing home. One of the greatest benefits of hospice is the security that comes from knowing that medical support is available whenever it’s needed.

Nurse with elderly man

The goal of hospice is to relieve suffering, provide comfort, promote dignity and facilitate closure for patients and families.

Anyone can inquire about hospice services. The patient, the patient’s family or primary physician may request an evaluation to see if hospice is an appropriate option for care.

Related Articles:

Hospice Questions Answered

Medicare and the Cost of Hospice


*National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. A service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, NIH Publication No. 12–3895, June 2012.