My brother is on dialysis and wants to stop. We’ve been told it will be painful and he’ll die in a few weeks. Is that true?
When kidneys stop working (“ fail”), toxins (such as creatinine) build up and cause death. A dialysis machine can artificially remove these toxins.
A key question is “why does he want to stop?” The older one is, the more symptoms dialysis causes: pain, nausea, and weariness are common reasons for quitting. But, could there be other problems (like transportation to and from dialysis)?
Before making this decision, he and his family need to discuss that key question and have answers to at least the following:
If he stops dialysis, how long will he survive and how would he die? The average survival time is eight (8) days after stopping dialysis; although I’ve seen a few live months. The dying process is mostly one of becoming progressively weaker, more tired, and eventually drifting into a coma – it is usually a peaceful death.
What symptoms will he have after stopping dialysis? The most common complaints are: fatigue (tiredness), loss of appetite, itching, increased drowsiness, swelling, and muscular pain. Medications help control these.
If he continued dialysis, how long could he expect to live? Generally, the older you are and the more health problems you have, the shorter your life expectancy. If you’re between 45-54 years, the average five year survival is 70%; whereas, if you are over 75, it’s less than 20% – that means fewer than 20 of 100 people over 75 years old on dialysis will live five years.
Seniors often tell me they’re weary but their families ‘won’t let them go’. The decision ultimately rests with each patient: ethically, anyone can stop dialysis at any time. No one wants to lose a loved one, but both families and doctors need to resist pushing them to continue doing what may only prolong their suffering.