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Transplant Recipient Information

About Kidneys and Transplants

How do the kidneys work?

The kidneys are like filters to keep your body in balance. Waste and extra body fluid leave the body in the urine (pee).

​​​​​​​​​​​ kidney-cross-section

Holly Fischer. Kidney Cross Section. [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Most people have 2 kidneys, which are each about the size of a fist. Blood filters through the kidneys. Each kidney has a million tiny units called nephrons. Nephrons are made up of little filters (glomerulus) that remove waste, toxins and water from the blood. The cleaned blood is then sent back to the body, while the waste is turned into urine, which leaves the body when you pee. Most people make about 2 liters (8 cups) of urine a day.

To learn more about your kidneys, read Living with Reduced Kidney Function and Living with Kidney Failure. You can get these books for free from your kidney care team, or get them online from the Kidney Foundation of Canada.

The main causes of kidney failure are diabetes, high blood pressure, and other unknown causes.

Why are the kidneys important?

Kidneys are as important as your heart and lungs!

​​​​​​​​​​​ kidney-cross-section

The kidneys are organs that are important for how your body works. They balance your body's water, salt, and minerals. They also remove waste, like urea and creatinine. Urea is what’s left over after our bodies break down proteins from food. Creatinine is waste from muscles. Kidneys are also important for making red blood cells (hemoglobin) and for controlling blood pressure.

When kidneys don’t work well, waste builds up in the blood, causing symptoms like:

  • Being tired.
  • Having poor appetite (not hungry).
  • Feeling itchy.
  • Feeling nauseated (sick to your stomach).
  • Having trouble breathing.

Kidney disease is often called a silent disease, because some people have few symptoms. Or their symptoms are the same as with other illnesses, such as a cold or the flu. That’s why diagnosing kidney disease can happen when it’s quite advanced.

Kidney Transplant to Treat Kidney Disease

Interesting Fact:

  • The first successful living kidney transplant was in Boston in 1954 between identical twin brothers.

Treatment options for kidney failure include hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis, conservative care, and kidney transplant. Kidney transplant is not possible for e​veryone with kidney disease.

Unlike dialysis, which can happen right away if needed, it takes time to plan and get ready for transplant. Learning about transplant early can help with the planning needed to move forward.

It can take 6 m​onths or longer to know if a transplant is right for a person (the assessment). It takes longer for people who need extra tests.

The assessment helps show the risk of doing the transplant. For example, the risk of transplant surgery in a person with heart disease is much higher than the risk for someone with a healthy heart. Understanding the risk helps the person and transplant team make the best decision about whether a transplant is right for that person.

Facts about kidney transplant:

  • For people who are eligible for a transplant, it’s the best option for treating their kidney disease.
  • Transplant is a treatment. It’s not a cure for kidney disease.
  • Kidney transplant will not treat or cure other health problems (e.g., arthritis or diabetes).
  • People who have successful transplants no longer need dialysis. ​​​​​

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