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Thrive On

Body Image and Dialysis

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) can bring about certain physical changes. No matter what they may be—and there can be many—you are still you at the core. Getting tips on how to handle these changes can help you stay focused on what’s most important: your personality and attitude. Talk to your social worker, dietitian or doctor about any body image issues you may experience.

Body image change on dialysis

Common body image issues with CKD

Skin changes on dialysis

Skin changes

Waste products that your kidneys are no longer able to remove can cause changes in your skin color and texture. If you have light skin, it may look gray or yellowish in color. If you have a darker skin complexion, you may see it getting slightly darker.

Itchy skin
Many people on dialysis have itchy skin (also known as pruritus)—usually on the back, chest, head, arms or legs.

Learn more about pruritus. Watch this video.
Some reasons are:

  • The kidneys have trouble balancing certain minerals like calcium and phosphorus. Phosphate binders are medicines that can lower phosphate levels and may ease the itching.
  • Low calcium levels can trigger the parathyroid glands to release a hormone that may cause itching. Removing some—but not all—of the 4 parathyroid glands can reduce itching.

Another way to ease itchy skin is with ultraviolet light. You could spend some time in the sun or with a therapeutic lightbox, which uses fluorescent light. Yet another option is to use an antihistamine, which can ease itching from many causes.

There isn’t a single answer for everyone, so speak with your doctor or nurse to explore what may help you.

Fragile skin
Dialysis can also cause your skin to become thin and fragile. It may also tear, causing purple sores that heal slowly. This is called pseudoporphyria. If this happens to you, it’s best to see a dermatologist, who may be able to help.

Time will help
The more time you spend on dialysis, the better your skin will look. After a kidney transplant, your skin may even return to the way it was before you had CKD.
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Ammonia breath from dialysis

Ammonia breath

When kidneys fail, waste products can make your breath smell like ammonia. You may even have that taste in your mouth.

Freshen your breath by:

  • Brushing your teeth, gums and tongue several times a day
  • Flossing every day
  • Carrying a sample size of mouthwash in your bag

Dry mouth is also common for people on dialysis. Sucking on ice chips or sugar-free candies can help.

It’s also very important to visit your dentist for checkups on a regular basis. Dental hygiene can play a role in your overall health.

Hair changes on dialysis

Hair changes

When you have kidney disease, you may find your hair thinning. This can be due to a lack of certain nutrients in your diet. Check with your doctor to see if you should be taking supplements—but don’t start taking them without that advice. Once you’ve figured out the cause of your hair loss, you can also head to your stylist or barber. Volumizing shampoos and conditioners, as well as a stylish cut or hair color, can give your image a bit of a boost.

Weight gain on dialysis

Weight gain or loss

Chronic kidney disease can cause weight changes. If you’re worried about your changing weight, be sure to talk to your dietitian. Your dietitian can suggest an appropriate meal plan and work with you to achieve a healthy weight.

Surgical scars from dialysis

Surgical scars

There is simply no way around having them if you’re doing dialysis. You may want to consider covering vascular access areas with light, breathable clothing. You can also think of your scars as badges of honor for what you’ve gone through.