Prep Your Health: Chronic Kidney Disease Care in an Emergency

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Artistic illustration of kidneys inside the human body

There are different forms of chronic kidney disease and many receive different types of treatment for it. In observance of March being National Kidney Month, Public Health Matters looks at how people who need dialysis can prepare for disasters and emergencies.

For being so small (each is about the size of a computer mouse), the kidneys are the ultimate multitaskers. They perform critical functions within the body, like filtering all the blood in your body every 30 minutes. If that wasn’t enough, they also help control blood pressure, stimulate production of red blood cells, keep bones healthy, and regulate blood chemicals.

When your kidneys are damaged and can’t filter blood the way they should for more than 3 months, it’s called chronic kidney disease or CKD. More than 1 in 7 adults in the U.S. (or about 37 million people) are estimated to have CKD. Most don’t know they have it.

When kidney damage is severe and kidney function is very low, dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed for survival. Kidney failure treated with dialysis or a kidney transplant is called end-stage renal disease.

What is Dialysis?

3-Day Emergency Shopping List of drinks to purchase

There are two main types of dialysis that can be performed at home. Both types filter your blood to rid your body of harmful wastes, extra salt, and water.

  • Hemodialysis uses a machine. It is sometimes called an artificial kidney. You usually go to a special clinic for treatments several times a week.
  • Peritoneal dialysis uses the lining of your abdomen, called the peritoneal membrane, to filter your blood.

During a disaster or other emergency, getting kidney dialysis treatment may be challenging. Here are some ways to Prepare Your Health if you receive kidney dialysis at a center.

Plan Ahead

If you normally receive kidney dialysis at an outpatient center, it’s important that you plan ahead for disasters and emergencies that might make it difficult or impossible to keep up with your kidney dialysis treatment.

3-Day Emergency Shopping list of foods to purchase

Complete a patient ID card. This card is not a substitute for having copies of important paperwork, such as your medical records. Instead, this card is meant to help you organize and communicate basic information about yourself and your dialysis prescription to first responders and a receiving dialysis treatment facility.

In addition to the information on the ID card, write down these important phone numbers:

  • For immediate assistance:Kidney Community Emergency Response hotline: 1-866-901-3773
    • National Kidney Foundation help line: 1-855-NKF-CARES (1-855-653-2273)
  • 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227)

Prepare a 3-Day Emergency Diet

If you have to miss a treatment, follow the 3-Day Emergency Diet. This diet does not take the place of dialysis, but can help reduce the amount of waste that builds up in your blood, which could save your life. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Talk to your doctor—or a clinical dietitian—about whether a 3-Day
    Emergency Diet is right for you and, if so, what foods and liquids to include and which to avoid.
  • If you are pregnant or have an infant or child who is on dialysis, talk to your doctor or dietitian about modifications to this diet. This plan could save your life or the life of your child.
  • Buy enough of the appropriate foods and drinks to last six days so that you can repeat the 3-Day Emergency Diet a second time, if needed.

Prescription Preparedness

Here are some ways on how to better prepare your prescriptions for an emergency:

3-Day Emergency Shopping List of sweets to purchase.

  • Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about creating an emergency supply of prescription medications. Some dialysis patients take medication to help control the level of potassium in their blood.
  • Know the shelf lives and proper storage temperatures for your prescriptions.
  • Keep an up-to-date list of all prescription medications that also includes information on diagnosis, dosage, frequency, medical supply needs, and known allergies.

Emergencies can happen at any time and can leave a person stressed to find these necessities at the last minute. Having an emergency action plan in place can help lessen the stress and worry that comes with reacting to an emergency.




Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you may have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

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2 comments on “Prep Your Health: Chronic Kidney Disease Care in an Emergency”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    I’m a nurse on a dialysis unit in Charleston and I have to say that I really love some of the information provided on this blog. One of the biggest problems we see with dialysis patients comes from missing dialysis. I wish some of this information had been included. Patients with CKD often have comorbidities like chronic heart failure and when dialysis is missed they become very fluid overloaded and electrolytes become off-balanced leading to difficulty breathing and increased cardiac issues. On the other hand, I appreciate the fact that you included information on an emergency hotline, diet to help reduce the build-up of waste and back-up of medications. I feel it is also important for patients to have an evacuation plan that included a safe location and a list of dialysis facilities in those areas so that arrangments can be made to maintain dialysis. While this article seems to address hemodialysis I also feel it is valuable to peritoneal dialysis (PD) patients to consider emergency back up plans such as an external power source for their PD machine or an area to do manual exchanges along with backup bags of PD fluids and medications. I will definitely keep these emergency numbers handy to pass along to my patients. Thanks for sharing.

    I am a nurse at a local hospital and have seen patients admitted in distress after missing dialysis treatments. Many depend on local transportation services to get to their facilities. These services may not be available during emergencies or disasters and other means will need to be sought. I have seen local rescue squads transport community members to their facilities in the cases of bad weather. I like the 3-day diet idea to reduce the impact of missing dialysis if they are unable to get to the facility for whatever reason. I, also, appreciate the recommendations for having a supply of medications stored in a safe place for emergencies. This is valuable information for this population as they are likely on several medications treating comorbidities such as hypertension and diabetes. Those who perform peritoneal dialysis should take special care in preventIng infection at the site used. The CDC recommends careful hand-washing in emergencies using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and wearing clean gloves. Keep a good supply of hand sanitizer available as well as gloves. Thank you for the hotline numbers which are very helpful and for the great information provided on planning ahead for emergencies.

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Page last reviewed: March 11, 2021
Page last updated: March 11, 2021