Going through dialysis can be tough on the body. Some people continue to decline in health while undergoing kidney dialysis treatment. When some patients become ill or die during dialysis, it may seem like it is one of the risks of treatment. Kidney dialysis errors that injure or kill patients often go undetected.
If you or a family member suffered an injury after dialysis, you may be able to recover compensation for your loss. A medical malpractice lawsuit can help you get money for medical bills, loss of income, and pain and suffering. Filing a malpractice claim can also help others by making sure dangerous doctors are held accountable. To get more information about kidney dialysis malpractice, get a case evaluation from an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
What Is Kidney Dialysis?
Kidneys provide a vital function to maintaining your health and wellbeing. The kidneys are two, fist-sized organs that are located just below the rib cage near the middle of your back. Essentially, the kidneys filter the blood, removing excess water, toxins, and waste matter. Small structures called nephrons in the kidney act as filters.
The kidneys also help regulate body function by releasing hormones. These hormones, when active and regulated, help balance control blood pressure, iron levels, and calcium and other minerals for strong bones and body function. Waste material filtered through the kidneys is released through urine, which goes to the bladder and is then released from the body.
When the kidneys are damaged or fail to function, the body cannot properly filter the blood. As a result, waste material can build up in the blood and cause further damage to other organs and impair health. Kidney disease is a common health risk for Americans.
According to the National Institutes of Health, if your kidney function drops below 15%, you are said to have kidney failure. Many people have early stage kidney disease and are not diagnosed until the symptoms are more advanced and severe.
Peritoneal and Hemodialysis
If your kidneys can no longer function, dialysis is a medical process that uses a machine to filter waste from the blood, acting like an artificial kidney. The most common forms of dialysis include hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. According to the University of Chicago Medicine, in Chicago, Illinois, “peritoneal dialysis is a method of removing waste products from the blood using a special cleaning solution that is pumped into the abdomen, then discarded several hours later.”
Hemodialysis or intermittent hemodialysis involves connecting the patient to a machine, where their blood is pumped through tubes and through the machine to filter the blood and return it to the body. This type of dialysis may be required for several hours each session, several times during the weeks. Hemodialysis often requires permanent “dialysis access,” or a port to more easily connect the bloodstream to the machinery.
Chronic Kidney Disease
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is permanent damage to the kidneys. Damage to the kidneys can be caused by several conditions. The most common cause of CKD is diabetes. High blood pressure is also a common cause of kidney failure. For older people, the risks of kidney disease increase over time. In many patients, diabetes and high blood pressure, together with other heart disease issues, increase the risk of developing kidney disease.
- Changes in urination (foamy urine; more or less often; darker in color; difficulty urinating; or blood in the urine.)
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, hands, or face
- Itching or skin rash
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling cold
Kidney disease is often diagnosed through blood tests. When a patient has their blood sample analyzed, it can be screened for indicators of possible kidney disease, including albumin, serum creatinine, and glomerular filtration rate (GFR). These are common parts of a blood panel screening and should alert your doctor to possible kidney health issues.
Kidney disease may have a few different treatment options, depending on the extent of the damage, permanency, and overall health of the patient. For treatable kidney disease, medication and a change in health lifestyle can lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and control blood glucose. For kidney failure patients in good health, a kidney transplant may be the best treatment option and allow for recovery from kidney disease. However, for most patients, the only treatment option for kidney failure is dialysis.
The Effects of Hemodialysis Treatment
Dialysis is one of the most common ways to treat kidney failure and kidney disease. However, the treatment can still be very difficult for patients. The process itself is hard on the body and requires a lot of time and commitment. For many patients, blood dialysis or hemodialysis is a way to prolong life but they may remain on dialysis treatment for the remainder of their lives.
According to UCSF, there are an estimated 750,000 people in the U.S. affected by kidney failure each year. After one year of dialysis treatment, patients on dialysis have a 15% to 20% mortality rate and a 5-year survival rate of less than 50%. More than 100,000 patients are on the kidney transplant waiting list but there were only about 20,000 donor kidneys available for a kidney transplant.
Limited Options for Kidney Dialysis Treatment
For patients at risk of developing kidney disease, there are options to reduce the risk of CKD, including lowering blood pressure, managing blood sugar, and lowering bad cholesterol. However, there are limited options for patients who develop chronic kidney disease or kidney failure. The only regular options for most kidney failure patients are dialysis or kidney transplant.
When kidney filtration drops below a certain level, it may require intervention to prevent serious health issues. A kidney transplant can help restore kidney function and allow for living a normal and active life. Once someone gets a kidney transplant, the donor kidney can last for 10 years or more. Some patients can have their donor kidney function for the rest of their lives.
One of the difficult aspects of a kidney transplant is finding a donor. Even though people are generally born with 2 kidneys, most people can function normally with only one kidney. However, the average waitlist for a kidney transplant can be 3 to 5 years or more. The waitlists for a transplant are generally managed through the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). This program is intended to distribute organs fairly to patients, depending on factors like:
- Match with donor kidney
- Blood group
- Sensitivity to high antibody level (increased risk of rejecting a transplant)
- Number of donors available in the area
- Age of the recipient
- Wishes of the donor
When someone suffers kidney failure, a family member may be the best option for finding a donor, from someone with healthy functioning kidneys that matches the blood profile of the patient. However, others have found donors through reaching out to the community to find a non-relative donor willing to help someone in need.
Side Effects of Kidney Dialysis
Kidney dialysis has several side effects that can be difficult to deal with for patients and their families. The side effects can be more severe for people with more serious kidney failure and patients who are struggling with their dietary and fluid intake guidelines. Possible side effects of dialysis include:
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle cramps
- Blood clots
- Itching or dry skin
- Sexual dysfunction
- Anxiety or depression
- Bloating or feeling full
- Weight gain
The side effects of dialysis can also vary based on the type of dialysis. For example, peritoneal dialysis carries a risk of a hernia when the catheter goes through the abdominal muscles in the stomach area. The dialysis process puts pressure
Can You Recover Function After Dialysis?
If a patient has serious kidney disease or kidney failure, the most common options are dialysis and kidney transplant. If someone is not eligible for a kidney transplant or has a low risk of being approved for an organ transplant, dialysis may be the only option. Dialysis does not cure kidney disease. Kidney dialysis is only a temporary treatment. Dialysis requires regular visits and continuing care. Some patients continue dialysis for 10 years or more but ending dialysis is generally an end-of-life care decision.
When Kidney Dialysis Goes Wrong
Kidney dialysis is generally safe and pain-free. However, as with any medical treatment, there are risks that go along with dialysis. Problems associated with kidney dialysis errors include:
- Sudden cardiac death
- Arterial injuries
- Inadequate dialysis
- Lack of monitoring
- Incorrect dialyzer for dialysis solution
- Slip and fall injuries
Infection Injuries After Dialysis
Dialysis involves accessing the body’s circulatory system from the outside. When the inside of the body is exposed to the outside, there is a serious risk of infection. Causes of infection can include bacteria, fungus, or viral infections. Infections acquired during health care are known as healthcare acquired infections (HAIs).
Sources of an infection involving dialysis can include improperly washed hands of healthcare providers, contaminated medical material, water droplets, unsterilized surgical instruments, improper dialysis procedures, failure to properly clean and maintain the access site, and understaffing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of the most common types of HAIs include:
- Central line-associated bloodstream infections
- Catheter-associated urinary tract infections
- Surgical site infections
- Ventilator-associated pneumonia
If left untreated, an infection can lead to sepsis, which is a life-threatening condition when the body’s immune system response to the infection causes tissue and organ damage. A serious infection for someone with kidney disease can worsen kidney function and cause permanent injury or death.
Artery Injuries Through Dialysis
Regular or permanent dialysis treatment requires access to the bloodstream. This is often accomplished through a surgical operation to provide access, including an arteriovenous fistula (AVF) or arteriovenous graft (AVG). The surgically accessed artery expands to handle the volume of blood flowing in and out of the body during dialysis.
In AVG, there is a synthetic bridge graft implanted to connect the veins to the arteries, taking blood with waste and toxins out and replacing it with filtered blood. AVF can access both the vein and the artery through an opening into the body, taking blood from the artery (carrying blood away from the heart), and returning filtered blood through the vein (carrying blood towards the heart).
Shorter Delivered Dialysis
Some patients feel rushed through dialysis. While dialysis may not be pleasant, the body needs time to allow the blood to be filtered by a machine when the kidneys are not functioning properly. When a healthcare provider tries to rush treatment, it can be less effective for the patient.
According to one study, the median time on dialysis is 3.6 hours per treatment, with a general range of 2.5 to 4.5 hours. Based on measuring a patient’s blood pressure after dialysis, there was a reduction in blood pressure with fewer sessions of dialysis when delivered dialysis was longer in duration. The study found, “shorter delivered dialysis times are associated with increased all-cause mortality.”
Cardiac Death in Dialysis Patients
According to an article from the American Heart Association, “patients with end-stage renal disease (RSRD) on long-term dialysis have very high mortality due to predominantly cardiovascular causes. Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is the single most common form of death in dialysis patients, accounting for 20% to 30% of all deaths in this cohort.”
Can I Sue If a Loved One Dies After Kidney Dialysis?
If a loved one dies during dialysis treatment caused by medical errors, the family may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover damages. A wrongful death claim will not bring back your loved one but it can help to hold those responsible accountable for their mistakes. The lawsuit can help the family financially to recover funeral expenses, loss of financial support, and loss of benefits.
At Gilman & Bedigian, we will use our experience, knowledge, and dedication to investigate medical accidents caused by medical errors or negligence. Our aggressive trial lawyers have helped our families across the country recover millions of dollars in compensation after a medical injury. Contact us online or call our law office today at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.