Balloon sans Cake or Ice Cream

I am at Stage 3A, which is still pretty far from dialysis or End Stage Kidney Disease (ESRD) which is usually Stage 5. Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is staged by your Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR). This graphic will make it clear.

I don’t know very much about dialysis. However, I have heard of a fistula. I went to MedlinePlus, which is subdivision of the U.S. National Library of Medicine which, in turn, is a subdivision of the National Institutes of Health at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002365.htm for a formal definition of fistula.

“A fistula is an abnormal connection between two body parts, such as an organ or blood vessel and another structure. Fistulas are usually the result of an injury or surgery. Infection or inflammation can also cause a fistula to form.

Information

Fistulas may occur in many parts of the body. They can form between:

  • An artery and vein
  • Bile ducts and the surface of the skin (from gallbladder surgery)
  • The cervix and vagina
  • The neck and throat
  • The space inside the skull and nasal sinus
  • The bowel and vagina
  • The colon and surface of the body, causing feces to exit through an opening other than the anus
  • The stomach and surface of the skin
  • The uterus and peritoneal cavity (the space between the walls of the abdomen and internal organs)
  • An artery and vein in the lungs (results in blood not picking up enough oxygen in the lungs)
  • The navel and gut”

Now, look again at the first words in the list above: “an artery and vein.” That’s the way fistulas for dialysis are formed. But how?

“A vascular access is a hemodialysis patient’s lifeline, because it makes life-saving hemodialysis treatments possible. Hemodialysis is a treatment for kidney failure that uses a machine to send the patient’s blood through a filter, called a dialyzer, outside the body. The access is a surgically created vein used to remove and return blood during hemodialysis. The blood goes through a needle, a few ounces at a time. The blood then travels through a tube that takes it to the dialyzer. Inside the dialyzer, the blood flows through thin fibers that filter out wastes and extra fluid. The machine returns the filtered blood to the body through a different tube. A vascular access lets large amounts of blood flow continuously during hemodialysis treatments to filter as much blood as possible per treatment. About a pint of blood flows through the machine every minute. A vascular access should be in place weeks or months before the first hemodialysis treatment.”

Thank you to the University of California, San Francisco, Department of Surgery at https://surgery.ucsf.edu/conditions–procedures/vascular-access-for-hemodialysis.aspx for even more useful information than I’d sought.

But now we need to know what hemodialysis is. The National Kidney Foundation at https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/hemodialysis was a fount of knowledge for us (as it always is):

“When is dialysis needed?

You need dialysis if your kidneys no longer remove enough wastes and fluid from your blood to keep you healthy. This usually happens when you have only 10 to 15 percent of your kidney function left. [Gail here: that’s stage 5 or ESRD.] You may have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, swelling and fatigue. However, even if you don’t have these symptoms yet, you can still have a high level of wastes in your blood that may be toxic to your body. Your doctor is the best person to tell you when you should start dialysis.

How does hemodialysis work?

Hemodialysis is a procedure where a dialysis machine and a special filter called an artificial kidney, or a dialyzer, are used to clean your blood. To get your blood into the dialyzer, the doctor needs to make an access, or entrance, into your blood vessels. This is done with minor surgery, usually to your arm. ….

How does the dialyzer clean my blood?

The dialyzer, or filter, has two parts, one for your blood and one for a washing fluid called dialysate. A thin membrane separates these two parts. Blood cells, protein and other important things remain in your blood because they are too big to pass through the membrane. Smaller waste products in the blood, such as urea, creatinine, potassium and extra fluid pass through the membrane and are washed away.”

By the way, hemodialysis is not the only kind of dialysis.

Got it? So what’s this about balloon? By this point, you’ve realized it’s not the kind you see at birthday parties as you see cake and ice cream. Someone I know is having this procedure. While talking it over, we realized neither of us knew how it was done or, on some levels, why it was even done. I decided we could both learn about it if I wrote about ballooning.

Well, will you look at that? Ballooning is really angioplasty. The Encarta Dictionary defines angioplasty as,

“a surgical operation to clear a narrowed or blocked artery”

That makes sense since a fistula connects an artery and a vein.

Let’s find out why how it’s done. I found a good explanation from Azura Vascular Care at https://www.azuravascularcare.com/infodialysisaccess/angioplasty-can-help-with-dialysis-access-complications/.

“An angioplasty is a way to fix a blood vessel that has become narrow.

  • If you need an angioplasty, an inflatable balloon will be inserted through the catheter.
  • The balloon is inflated where the narrowing is.
  • You may feel some discomfort when the balloon is inflated.
  • The angioplasty usually takes about 1 hour.
  • One stitch may be placed at the insertion site.
  • The stitch can be taken out the following morning or at your next dialysis treatment.”

Apparently, your artery can be too narrow before you start dialysis. Notice, the person I was speaking with has a fistula, not a catheter. The procedure is the same, except that the balloon is inserted via the fistula.

Well, what about after the angioplasty? This is from the Texas Heart Institute at https://www.texasheart.org/heart-health/heart-information-center/topics/vascular-access-for-hemodialysis/:

“Patients should avoid heavy lifting. Any injury to your arm can cause bleeding. When you go to the doctor, do not let anyone take your blood pressure, start an IV, or take blood from the arm with the A-V fistula or graft.”

Now I know, and so does the person I was speaking with… and so do you.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!