Top of the page
A kidney transplant is surgery to add a healthy (donor) kidney into your body. Usually your diseased kidney is not removed. There are 2 types of donors:
You'll need to have many blood tests and other tests done. You will also be evaluated to make sure that you do not have significant heart or lung disease or other diseases, such as cancer, which might decrease your lifespan.
Kidney transplant surgery takes about 3 hours. During surgery, the donor kidney will be placed in your lower abdomen, blood vessels from the donor kidney will be connected to arteries and veins in your body, and the ureter from the donor kidney will be connected to your bladder. Blood is then able to flow through the new kidney, and the kidney will begin to filter and remove wastes and to produce urine.
The new kidney usually begins to function right away. In most cases, diseased or damaged kidneys are not removed unless you have a severe infection of the kidney (pyelonephritis), kidney cancer, nephrotic syndrome, or extremely large polycystic kidneys.
To learn more, see the topic Organ Transplant.
The person donating the kidney will stay in the hospital 3 to 7 days. The person receiving the kidney will stay in hospital 7 to 10 days after the surgery. In some cases, it may take time for your new kidney to produce urine. So you may have to receive dialysis and take medicines, such as diuretics, that help your new kidney get rid of excess water and salt from your body.
After the surgery you will have to take medicines to suppress your immune system. These medicines are used to help keep your body from rejecting your new kidney. You will need to take these medicines for the lifetime of your kidney.
During the first weeks to months after your surgery, your body may try to reject your new kidney. This is called acute rejection and occurs in about 1 out of 10 people in the first year after transplant. Most of the time, acute rejection can be treated with anti-rejection (immunosuppressive) medicines.footnote 1
Chronic rejection (also called chronic allograft failure) is a process of gradual, progressive loss of kidney function and can occur many months to several years after your surgery. Experts don't fully understand what causes chronic rejection. There is no treatment for chronic rejection. Most people go back on dialysis or have another transplant.
Kidney transplant surgery is done so that a healthy kidney (donor kidney) can do what your diseased kidney can no longer do. Kidney transplant is used when you have severe chronic kidney disease (renal failure) that cannot be reversed by another treatment method. You will not be able to have this surgery if you have an active infection, another life-threatening disease such as cancer, or severe heart or lung disease.
If you have severe chronic kidney disease and choose to have a kidney transplant, you may live longer than if you choose only to treat your kidney disease with dialysis alone.
In the past, transplants using a kidney from a first-degree relative, such as your father, mother, brother, or sister, were the most successful in the long term. But with modern anti-rejection drugs, kidneys from people you are not related to work well, too. Transplants from living donors or from deceased donors can succeed.
The risks of having a kidney transplant include:
Kidney transplant may be a better treatment for you than dialysis, because survival rates are better after transplant. You will also be able to live a more normal life, because you won't have to have dialysis.
There is often a long wait before you receive a donor kidney. And there is no guarantee that the transplant will be successful. Fewer complications occur in people who are good candidates for surgery and who do not have other serious medical conditions, such as unstable coronary artery disease or cancer, that may limit their life expectancy.
Not everyone is able to have a kidney transplant. You will not usually have a kidney transplant if you have an active infection or another life-threatening disease, such as cancer or significant heart or lung disease.
After having a kidney transplant, you will have to take medicines that suppress your immune system (anti-rejection or immunosuppressive medicines) to help prevent your body from rejecting the new kidney. You will need to take these medicines for the rest of your life. Because these medicines weaken your immune system, you will have an increased risk for serious infections. There is also the chance that your body may still reject your new kidney even if you take these medicines. However, most acute rejection is treatable and reversible. But if it isn't reversible, you will have to start dialysis and possibly wait for another kidney transplant.
Immunosuppressive medicines also increase your risk of other diseases, such as skin cancer and lymphoma. You have a greater risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cataracts, and inflammation of the liver (cirrhosis) if you are taking these medicines.
Citations Hart A, et al. (2017). OPTN/SRTR 2015 annual data report: Kidney. American Journal of Transplantation, 17(Suppl 1): 21-116. DOI: 10.1111/ajt.14124. Accessed April 26, 2017. Other Works ConsultedBarry JM, Conlin MJ (2012). Renal transplantation. In AJ Wein et al., eds., Campbell-Walsh Urology, 10th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1226–1253. Philadelphia: Saunders.Flechner SM (2013). Renal transplantation. In JW McAninch, TF Lue, eds., Smith and Tanagho's General Urology, 18th ed., pp. 550–569. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Adaptation Date: 8/4/2020
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2020 Healthwise, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.