A new overnight dialysis program at the Foothills Medical Centre is improving the lives of its patients, Calgary doctors say.

Instead of going to the hospital for daytime treatments that last about four hours, patients undergo a more gradual eight-hour treatment while sleeping at the hospital. It is said to be easier on the heart and produces fewer adverse symptoms. 

“Patients enjoy a much better quality of life with nocturnal hemodialysis,” said Dr. Jennifer MacRae, the medical director with the southern Alberta renal program who helped set up the new service.

When Caitlin Tighe used to have daytime dialysis four times a week, she was exhausted, sick and taking a lot of medication, she said.

Now she sleeps at the hospital three nights per week to undergo the nocturnal treatment.

"It was like dramatic, the difference I felt in terms of energy, like feeling better all around,” she said.

Dialysis is the process of cleansing the blood of toxins and excess fluid when normal kidney function is reduced. The patient’s blood is filtered through a dialyzer and then returned to the body.

Program could expand

Overnight home hemodialysis has been available in Alberta for many years, but patients need to be trained and their homes have to be altered to accommodate the equipment.

“We’ve always recognized there was a need for a program like this for our sickest patients that offered a more gentle withdrawal of toxins,” said Carol Easton, executive director of the southern Alberta renal program.

The nocturnal service began in October and already has a waitlist of 50 people, AHS said.

Doctors are hoping to expand the program to other hospitals and community dialysis units around southern Alberta.

The overnight program requires fewer staff than the daytime programs. One nurse oversees three patients in a daytime session, but at night one nurse can take care of five patients, AHS said.

In southern Alberta there are about 725 patients who get hemodialysis in a clinical setting. Another 80 undergo home hemodialysis and about 228 patients get home peritoneal dialysis.