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Peritoneal Dialysis

Learn about how peritoneal dialysis works and access

Peritoneal dialysis (PD) cleans waste products out of your blood, removes extra fluids, and controls your body chemistry when your kidneys fail. But, instead of a dialysis machine, it uses your body. But even though you perform the treatment yourself, it’s important to remember that you will be supported by a team that includes medical professionals, dietitians and social workers. They will help you every step of the way.

How It Works

Catheter position diagramThe peritoneum—the thin membrane that lines your abdomen—is rich in tiny blood vessels. It continually provides a supply of blood to be cleaned. During PD, you fill your abdomen with dialysate, a solution containing water and chemicals (electrolytes). The amount of fluid in each PD bag is about enough to fill a 2-liter soda bottle. The solution flows through a catheter that is placed during a surgical procedure, generally done outpatient.


To gain access to the peritoneum for PD, a catheter (a flexible hollow tube) must be placed in your lower abdomen. It’s the size of a straw, about a foot long, with only four or five inches of it outside your body. A catheter is usually placed in an operating room (to minimize infection) and often under local anesthesia. It usually takes 3-4 weeks for your catheter to heal enough to begin using it for your PD treatments.

The extra fluid and wastes in the blood are filtered through the peritoneum and collect in the solution. The solution stays in the abdomen for a period of time. Then, it’s drained and replaced with fresh dialysate. This is called an exchange.

Two Types of PD

There are two types of peritoneal dialysis. Both are done at home.

Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis (CAPD) is done manually in any clean location at home, work or while traveling. An average of 4–5 exchanges are required each day; each exchange takes about 30–45 minutes to complete.


Continuous Cycling Peritoneal Dialysis (CCPD) is a machine-controlled process, usually done overnight while sleeping, for about 9–10 hours. Occasionally some patients require an additional exchange during the daytime as well.


It can take days or even a few weeks to get used to the “full” feeling of having fluid in your belly (kind of like eating too much Thanksgiving dinner). You may have some pain while your abdomen stretches, but most people can tolerate it.


Do You Have Questions About Your Treatment Options?

Fresenius Medical Care's Treatment Options Program (TOPs) offers classes to help you make the right decisions for your health and lifestyle.