Patients' perspectives of pain in dialysis: systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative studies

Kelly Zhang, Elyssa Hannan, Nicole Scholes-Robertson, Amanda Baumgart, Chandana Guha, Jasmijn Kerklaan, Camilla S. Hanson, Jonathan C. Craig, Sara N. Davison, Manfred Hecking, Allison Tong

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Pain is a severe and common symptom in patients receiving dialysis but remains inadequately managed in clinical practice. Understanding patient experiences of pain can inform strategies to address this patient-important symptom. We aimed to describe patients' perspectives on causes, experiences, and impacts of dialysis-associated pain. MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, and CINAHL were searched to August 2019 for all qualitative studies that described the perspectives of pain in adults aged 18 years or older receiving dialysis. Findings from the primary studies were analyzed using thematic synthesis. We included 60 studies across 14 countries involving 1343 participants (1215 receiving hemodialysis and 128 receiving peritoneal dialysis), and identified 6 themes: gripped by an all-consuming agony (draining cognitive capacity, exacerbating other symptoms); suffering in silence (surrendering to the inevitable, ignored or dismissed, hiding symptoms to protect others); provoking fear of treatment (resistance to cannulation, avoiding dialysis, anxious from witnessing other patients in pain); preventing life participation (preventing fulfilment of valued roles, depleting the will to live); coping aided by connection with others (shared understanding among patients, comforted and supported by others); and developing awareness, assertiveness, and self-reliance (procedural vigilance, finding strategies to minimize pain, bodily understanding and knowing thresholds, positive thinking). Struggling with pain in dialysis involved a progression of agony, fear, avoidance, and despair. However, support from others and self-management strategies were used to cope with pain. Strategies to empower patients to report and minimize pain and its consequences in dialysis are needed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1983-1994
Number of pages12
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


  • Pain
  • Dialysis
  • Hemodialysis
  • peritoneal dialysis
  • systematic review
  • outcomes
  • patient perspectives
  • qualitative research
  • patient-centered care
  • end-stage kidney disease
  • quality of life
  • chronic disease
  • patient-reported outcome measure


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