Stopping dialysis is possible, but it may shorten a person’s life expectancy, often significantly. Depending on their kidney function, the individual may continue to live anywhere from several days to several weeks after stopping treatment.

Dialysis helps filter a person’s blood to remove toxins and other waste from the body when the kidneys cannot function due to kidney failure or advanced disease. The treatment can help extend a person’s life for several years to decades.

This article reviews what a person can expect when considering stopping dialysis care.

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How long someone can live after stopping dialysis can vary significantly.

A 2013 study noted that textbooks often report life expectancy following stopping dialysis for end stage renal disease as 7–10 days. However, the study also noted that some other studies found wider ranges of 1–46 days and 1–150 days.

In their study, researchers noted that people who stopped dialysis during hospice care survived for about 7.4 days on average, with a range of 0–40 days.

The National Kidney Foundation notes that a person may live for a week to several weeks after stopping dialysis. Factors, such as their kidney function and overall health, affect how long they may live following discontinuation of treatment.

One anecdotal report from 2016 stated a person lived for 2 years following the discontinuation of dialysis. However, most studies report survival after stopping dialysis lasts several days or weeks rather than years.

Dialysis can prolong a person’s life expectancy.

The average life expectancy for someone receiving dialysis is between 5 and 10 years. However, a person may live 20–30 years after beginning treatment.

Doctors may advise individuals to make changes to their diet and lifestyle to increase their survival duration.

It is important to note that how long someone survives following dialysis varies. Several factors, such as overall health and kidney functioning, can affect how long a person will live.

A person’s doctor can provide them with more information about their outlook according to their circumstances.

Learn more about dialysis.

A person does not necessarily need to do anything specific to stop dialysis. However, they need to discuss their decision with treatment team members.

They may ask for details about why the patient wants to stop dialysis, such as worsening health, depression, or any other treatment-related issues. If they understand why the person wants to stop dialysis, they could advise on steps to take to improve current treatments.

In some cases, a treatment team may recommend speaking with a counselor if depression may be a reason for wishing to stop dialysis.

A person may also want to discuss stopping dialysis with family and friends ahead of time. Health experts generally consider stopping dialysis as terminal, which means family and friends may find the news upsetting. They may also have questions that people can ask healthcare professionals together so that everybody is informed about what to expect.

Doctors generally consider stopping dialysis as terminal. This means that they expect a person will die from complications relating to kidney failure.

When a person stops receiving dialysis, they will no longer process toxins in their blood or will have diminished toxin filtering ability. How much they can process will depend on exactly how much kidney function they have remaining when they stop the treatment.

Toxins will continue to build in the body until they eventually die. The buildup typically does not cause pain, but a person may feel increasing levels of fatigue or experience trouble breathing.

Individuals may be eligible for hospice care. They may discuss it with a doctor or social worker who can help them apply for the coverage.

Continuing treatment will largely depend on the person’s preferences.

If a doctor considers someone to be terminal, the individual may receive hospice care. They can apply for it with the help of a social worker or on their own.

A doctor can also prescribe medications to help make someone feel more comfortable. This can include diuretics, which can help prevent fluid buildup, as well as pain medications or other therapies.

Healthcare professionals will endeavor to honor a person’s wishes about where they stay following dialysis treatment.

In some cases, home healthcare aids may be available, though location and insurance coverage can make this option unavailable or unsuitable.

A nursing home may be a suitable option for some people.

A social worker or healthcare office can often help set up end-of-life care for the person. It is best for someone to speak with their healthcare team to find out what their options are before stopping dialysis.

Learn about hospice care.

The National Kidney Foundation notes that a person will not necessarily need to continue any special kidney diet.

However, an individual may choose to continue their kidney diet or kidney-friendly eating. Some tips to support kidney health through diet include:

  • reducing sodium or salt intake
  • choosing fresh fruits and vegetables
  • avoiding foods high in phosphorus, such as:
    • meats
    • oatmeal and other brand
    • dairy products
    • beans and lentils
    • dark-colored sodas
  • eating smaller portions of protein
  • preparing fresh meals at home
  • avoiding processed foods

Learn more about kidney failure and diet.

A person may be able to restart dialysis after stopping. However, it is unclear how many people choose to resume following the decision to stop or how stopping and then starting dialysis affects life expectancy.

A person who wishes to stop dialysis should discuss their thoughts with a treatment team member. If depression may be factoring into the decision, doctors may recommend speaking with a mental health professional.

If a person has not yet started dialysis, it is best to speak with a doctor or healthcare team if they have any concerns about the treatment. A doctor can provide information about dialysis, including likely life expectancy and quality of life.

A person’s doctor can also provide them with more ways they can receive support. Connecting with support groups or other people experiencing a similar situation may help a person feel like they have more support and understanding of how they are feeling.

Stopping dialysis is often terminal, meaning a person will die within a few days to weeks.

Dialysis can help extend someone’s life by filtering their blood to remove toxins, waste, and excess fluid. Once a person stops dialysis, toxins start to build up in the body. Although typically painless, individuals may start to feel increasingly fatigued.

A person may choose to stay at home or receive care at a healthcare facility, such as hospice care or the hospital.

It is best for a person to speak with their healthcare team if they have concerns about dialysis or wish to discuss stopping the treatment.