Some residents of Lake Charles, Louisiana, have evacuated to other regions of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Laura devastated the city. Among these individuals are patients who regularly undergo lifesaving dialysis. Dia Waguespack, MD, nephrologist with UT Physicians, helps to explain the importance of consistent treatments and care options for displaced dialysis patients while temporarily relocated.
Who requires dialysis and why
Our kidneys have three main purposes: to filter blood to remove waste and toxins, remove excess fluid, and produce hormones that allow our bodies to create red blood cells. Patients who have end-stage kidney failure require dialysis treatments to perform these vital functions.
The most common form of dialysis in the United States is called hemodialysis. Typically, treatments are done multiple days a week for several hours at a time at a clinic center. There is also peritoneal dialysis, which can be done in the home via a machine called a cycler, or manually via gravity.
“The hemodialysis machine requires a complex water system, machines, and direct access to the patients’ blood, while peritoneal dialysis uses the abdominal cavity and prepared fluid in scheduled exchanges (done manually or with the cycler machine). In peritoneal dialysis, there is no direct connection to the blood whereas in hemodialysis the blood is what is filtered through the dialysis machine,” explained Waguespack, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and director of the Nephrology Fellowship program at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.
Regardless of the method selected, those on dialysis must receive their treatments regularly, even during a natural disaster.
“The risk of missed treatments due to inability to access the clinic due to evacuation or disasters has the potential for grave adverse health effects,” said Waguespack.
Some side effects of a missed dialysis appointment can include shortness of breath, electrolyte abnormalities, and even elevated blood pressure – all which can lead to hospitalization and eventually a fatal outcome.
Options for evacuees
Patients receiving dialysis are typically provided with medications, important information, and emergency instructions prior to a natural disaster. As soon as the situation allows, individuals are reassigned to a clinic in their evacuated area for care. The emergency room is also a resource for extreme situations.
Waguespack advocates for and recommends peritoneal dialysis for this very reason.
“Peritoneal dialysis is advantageous for many reasons. In situations like major storms, treatment can be continued in the absence of electricity, without the need for direct communication with a treatment center, and independent of a physical location. This allows for continued care and prevention of potentially life-threatening complications due to missed dialysis until conditions improve,” she said.
For additional information on treatment options and support programs, please visit the National Kidney Foundation’s website.