Key Terms

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A general term used to describe the site where the needles for the hemodialysis process are connected to your body. See also Fistual and Graft.

acute renal failure

A condition where kidneys suddenly become unable to filter waste products from an individual’s blood. When kidneys lose their filtering ability, dangerous levels of wastes may accumulate, and an individual’s blood’s chemical makeup may get out of balance.


More than normal amounts of a protein called albumin in the urine. Albuminuria may be a sign of kidney disease.


A condition in which a protein-like material builds up in one or more organs. This material cannot be broken down and interferes with the normal function of that organ. In kidneys, amyloidosis can lead to proteinuria, nephrotic syndrome, and renal failure.

analgesic-associated kidney disease 

Loss of kidney function that results from long-term use of analgesic (pain-relieving) medications. Analgesics that combine aspirin and acetaminophen are most dangerous to the kidneys.


The condition of having too few red blood cells. Healthy red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. If the blood is low on red blood cells, the body does not get enough oxygen. People with anemia may be tired and pale and may feel their heartbeat change. Anemia is common in people with chronic renal failure or those on dialysis. (See also erythropoietin.)


A condition in which the person stops making urine

arteriovenous (AV) fistula 

Surgical connection of an artery directly to a vein, usually in the forearm, created in patients who will need hemodialysis (see dialysis). The AV Fistula causes the vein to grow thicker, allowing the repeated needle insertions required for hemodialysis.

autoimmune disease 

Any disorder in which the body is attacked by its own immune system. Examples are Goodpasture syndrome and lupus erythematosus (see lupus nephritis).


blood pressure 

The pressure of the blood on the walls of the blood vessels. Measured in two numbers. The first, systolic pressure (top number), measures the pressure of the blood against the artery walls as the heart contracts. The second (bottom number), diastolic pressure, measures the pressure against the artery walls when the heart relaxes between beats. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg.

blood urea nitrogen (BUN) 

A waste product in the blood that comes from the breakdown of food protein. The kidneys filter blood to remove urea. As kidney function decreases, the BUN level increases.



An individual who has recently died and his or her organs are given for transplantation.


A mineral that the body needs for strong bones and teeth. Calcium may form stones in the kidney.


1) Sterile tubing that is inserted into a vein in the neck or chest to allow for temporary hemodialysis.

2) Sterile tubing that is surgically placed in the abdomen which allows for the exchanges in periodontal dialysis.

chronic kidney disease (CKD)

A progressive condition, not requiring dialysis, in which the kidneys are not functioning effectively and may be unable to produce red blood cells, to control blood pressure or to rid the body of waste through urination.

chronic renal failure 

Slow and progressive loss of kidney function over several years, often resulting in end-stage renal disease. People with end-stage renal disease need dialysis or transplantation to replace the work of the kidneys.

complete blood count (CBC)

A test that includes red blood cell count, white blood cell count, hemoglobin level and platelet count among others.

continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD)

The most common type of peritoneal dialysis. With CAPD, the blood is always being cleaned. The procedure uses a system of bags and tubing. No machine is required.

continuous cycling peritoneal dialysis (CCPD) 

A form of peritoneal dialysis that uses a machine. The machine automatically performs the exchanges while the person sleeps and typically involves three to five exchanges. This is also sometimes called Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis (APD).


A waste product from meat protein in the diet and from the muscles of the body. Creatinine is removed from blood by the kidneys; as kidney disease progresses, the level of creatinine in the blood increases.

creatinine clearance 

A test that measures how efficiently the kidneys remove creatinine and other wastes from the blood. Low creatinine clearance indicates impaired kidney function.


Term used to describe the machine that is used to perform continuous cycling peritoneal dialysis (CCPD).


diabetes mellitus

A condition characterized by high blood sugar resulting from the body’s inability to use sugar (glucose) efficiently. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is not able to make enough insulin; in type 2 diabetes, the body is resistant to the effects of available insulin.


A cleansing liquid used in the two major forms of dialysis–hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.


The process of cleaning wastes from the blood artificially. This job is normally done by the kidneys. If the kidneys fail, the blood must be cleaned artificially with special equipment. The two major forms of dialysis are hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.


A part of the hemodialysis machine. The dialyzer has two sections separated by a membrane. One section holds dialysate. The other holds the patient’s blood.

dwell time 

In peritoneal dialysis, the amount of time a bag of dialysate remains in the patient’s abdominal cavity during an exchange.


early renal insufficiency 

Partial kidney failure; symptoms include above-normal amounts of urination.


Swelling caused by too much fluid in the body.


Chemicals in the body fluids that result from the breakdown of salts, including sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride. The kidneys control the amount of electrolytes in the body. When the kidneys fail, electrolytes get out of balance, causing potentially serious health problems. Dialysis can correct this problem.

end-stage renal disease (ESRD) 

Total chronic kidney failure. When the kidneys fail, the body retains fluid and harmful wastes build up. A person with ESRD needs treatment to replace the work of the failed kidneys.


A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the endocrine glands, including diabetes.

Epogen (Epotein Alfa) 

A medication that assists the body in producing red blood cells. The medication acts the same way as the natural human hormone erythpoietin. When someone experiences kidney failure, the body does not produce erythropoietin the same way it did when the kidneys functioned normally. Epoetin Alfa is the generic name for the medication.


A hormone made by the kidneys to help form red blood cells. Lack of this hormone may lead to anemia.


A cycle in peritoneal dialysis in which the patient fills the abdominal cavity with dialysate, carries it for a specified dwell time, and then empties the dialysate from the abdomen in preparation for a fresh bag of dialysate.



See arteriovenous Fistula


glomerular filtration rate 

A test that determines kidney function by measuring creatine clearance.


Plural of glomerulus.


Inflammation of the glomeruli. Most often, it is caused by an autoimmune disease, but it can also result from infection.


Scarring of the glomeruli. It may result from diabetes mellitus (diabetic glomerulosclerosis) or from deposits in parts of the glomerulus (focal segmental glomerulosclerosis). The most common signs of glomerulosclerosis are proteinuria and kidney failure.


A tiny set of looping blood vessels in the nephron where blood is filtered in the kidney.

graft (arteriovenous graft) 

Surgical connection of an artery and a vein with an artificial tube.



A way of measuring the red cell content of the blood. It is measured as a percentage of the total blood volume.


A measure that tells how many red blood cells are present in a blood sample. Low hematocrit suggests anemia or massive blood loss.


Blood in the urine, which can be a sign of a kidney stone, glomerulonephritis, or other kidney problem.


The use of a machine to clean wastes from the blood after the kidneys have failed. The blood travels through tubes to a dialyzer, which removes wastes and extra fluid. The cleaned blood then flows through another set of tubes back into the body.


The part of the red blood cells that carries oxygen to all parts of the body. Hemoglobin is measured in grams (g) per deciliter (dL).

hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) 

A test that measures blood sugar control for the previous three months.

high blood pressure 

When the blood flows through the vessels at a greater than normal force. High blood pressure strains the heart; harms the arteries; and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney problems.


A natural chemical produced in one part of the body and released into the blood to trigger or regulate particular functions of the body. The kidney releases three hormones: erythropoietin, renin, and an active form of vitamin D that helps regulate calcium for bones.


Abnormally large amounts of calcium in the urine.


Unusually large amounts of oxalate in the urine, leading to kidney stones.


High blood pressure, which can be caused either by too much fluid in the blood vessels or by narrowing of the blood vessels.


IgA nephropathy 

A kidney disorder caused by deposits of the protein immunoglobulin A (IgA) inside the glomeruli (filters) within the kidney. The IgA protein damages the glomeruli, leading to blood and protein in the urine, to swelling in the hands and feet, and sometimes to kidney failure.

immune system 

The body’s system for protecting itself from viruses and bacteria or any “foreign” substances.


A drug given to suppress the natural responses of the body’s immune system. Immunosuppressants are given to transplant patients to prevent organ rejection and to patients with autoimmune diseases like lupus.

interstitial nephritis 

Inflammation of the kidney cells that are not part of the fluid-collecting units, a condition that can lead to acute renal failure or chronic renal failure.


juvenile onset diabetes 

Former term for insulin-dependent or type I diabetes.



The two bean-shaped organs that filter wastes from the blood. The kidneys are located near the middle of the back. They create urine, which is delivered to the bladder through tubes called ureters.


A measurement of dialysis dose. The measurement takes into account the efficiency of the dialyzer, the treatment time, and the total volume of urea in the body. See also URR.


lupus nephritis 

Inflammation of the kidneys caused by an autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus (eh-rih-theh-mah-TOH-sis). The condition can cause hematuria and proteinuria, and it may progress to end-stage renal disease.



A thin sheet or layer of tissue that lines a cavity or separates two parts of the body. A membrane can act as a filter, allowing some particles to pass from one part of the body to another while keeping others where they are. The membrane in a dialyzer filters waste products from the blood.

membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis 

A disease that occurs primarily in children and young adults. Over time, inflammation leads to scarring in the glomeruli, causing proteinuria, hematuria, and sometimes chronic renal failure or end-stage renal disease.


Abnormally low levels of albumin in the urine, which could be a sign of kidney disease.



Surgical removal of a kidney.


A doctor who treats patients with kidney problems or hypertension.


A tiny part of the kidneys. Each kidney is made up of about 1 million nephrons, which are the working units of the kidneys, removing wastes and extra fluids from the blood.

nephrotic syndrome 

A collection of symptoms that indicate kidney damage. Symptoms include high levels of protein in the urine, lack of protein in the blood, and high blood cholesterol.



The bowl-shaped bone that supports the spine and holds up the digestive, urinary, and reproductive organs. The legs connect to the body at the pelvis.

peritoneal dialysis 

See dialysis.


An element that plays an important role in the body’s use of carbohydrates and fats in the synthesis of protein for the growth, maintenance and repair of cells and tissue. Excess phosphorus is normally removed by the kidneys. When the kidneys are not working properly, phosphorus can build up in the body. High levels of phosphorus in the body can make a person’s skin feel itchy and weaken bone.

polycystic kidney disease 

An inherited disorder characterized by many grape-like clusters of fluid-filled cysts that make both kidneys larger over time. These cysts take over and destroy working kidney tissue. PKD may cause chronic renal failure and end-stage renal disease.


The medication used to treat anemia in patients with chronic kidney disease, who are not on dialysis.


One of the three main classes of food. Proteins are made of amino acids, which are called the building blocks of the cells. Protein is found in many foods such as meat, fish, poultry and eggs.


An infection of the kidney(s), usually caused by a germ that has traveled up through the urethra, bladder, and ureter(s) from outside the body.



Of the kidneys. A renal disease is a disease of the kidneys. Renal failure means the kidneys have stopped working properly.

renal agenesis 

The absence or severe malformation of one or both kidneys.

renal cell carcinoma 

A type of kidney cancer.

renal cysts 

Abnormal fluid-filled sacs in the kidney that range in size from microscopic to much larger. Many simple cysts are harmless, while other types can seriously damage the kidneys.

renal osteodystrophy 

Weak bone caused by poorly working kidneys. Renal osteodystrophy is a common problem for people on dialysis who have high phosphate levels or insufficient vitamin D supplementation.

renal pelvis

The basin into which the urine formed by the kidneys is excreted before it travels to the ureters and bladder.

renal tubular acidosis 

A defect in the kidneys that hinders their normal excretion of acids. Failure to excrete acids can lead to weak bones, kidney stones, and poor growth in children.

renal vein thrombosis

Blood clots in the vessel that carries blood away from the kidney. This can occur in people with the nephrotic syndrome.


A hormone made by the kidneys that helps regulate the volume of fluid in the body and blood pressure A


serum creatinine level 

A blood test used to measure kidney function



Replacement of a diseased organ with a healthy one. A kidney transplant may come from a living donor, usually a relative, or from someone who has just died.



One of the chief waste products of the body. When the body breaks down food, it uses what it needs and eliminates the rest as waste. The kidneys flush the waste from the body in the form of urea, which is in the urine.


Excess amounts of waste products in the blood, which could be a sign of chronic kidney disease.


Tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.


The tube that carries urine from the kidneys to the bladder.


The liquid waste product filtered from the blood by the kidneys.



A general term used to describe the area on the body where blood is drawn for circulation through a hemodialysis circuit. A vascular access may be an arteriovenous Fistula, Graft or a catheter.


Inflammation of the blood vessel walls. This can cause rash and disease in multiple organs of the body, including the kidneys.

Source: American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP), American Kidney Fund (AKF), National and Urological Diseases Information Clearing House (NIDDK), Kidney Care Partners (KCP).