Kidney transplantation

Kidney transplantation

A kidney transplant is an operation that places a healthy kidney from another person into your body. The kidney may come from someone who has died or from a living donor.

What are the benefits and risks of a kidney transplant?

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Benefits. A successful kidney transplant will help you live the kind of life you were living before you got kidney disease. Your health and energy should improve. Studies show that people with a kidney transplant live a longer and healthier life than those who remain on dialysis. For most patients, transplantation is the best option. 

There are also fewer limits on what you can eat and drink than for people who are on dialysis. To keep your new kidney healthy, you should eat mostly nutrient-dense foods, as explained in Self-Care for Kidney Health. 

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Risks. Kidney transplant surgery has risks. Risks vary from person to person based on medical condition, lifestyle, weight, and other factors. Kidney transplant anti-rejection medicines also have risks. Patients who receive a transplant must take medicine to prevent the body from rejecting the organ (anti-rejection medicine). This anti-rejection medicine has side effects. These include higher risk for infections and certain types of cancer. You will need to take anti-rejection medicine for as long as your new kidney is working effectively or sometimes longer. 

How can I become eligible for a kidney transplant?

For you to become eligible for a kidney transplant, your doctor must refer you to a transplant center for evaluation. Patients who are healthy enough to undergo transplantation should be referred once a glomerular filtration rate (GFR) of less than 30 mL/minute is reached. 

If you don’t have a referral, you may call a transplant center near you and talk to the Kidney Transplant Coordinator about an evaluation. 

Advantages of early referral

Early referral gives patients many advantages: 

  • An opportunity to get on the waitlist before starting dialysis 
  • More time to look for a potential living donor 
  • More time to receive education about transplantation 
  • More time to complete the evaluation 


Photo of a vial of blood on top of lab results

What is an evaluation?

Before you can be placed on a deceased donor transplant waitlist, you must complete the evaluation. The purpose of the evaluation is to identify any health problems that might interfere with a successful transplant. The evaluation includes many tests, such as cardiac testing, chest X-rays, and blood tests. Routine health screenings such as a mammogram, colonoscopy, and dental exam also are included. Other tests may be needed based on your medical condition. 

In some cases, patients are asked to take action to improve their chance of a successful transplant before they are placed on the waitlist. They may be asked to lose weight or stop smoking.

Doctor speaking with a smiling woman and her partner post surgery

What happens during the surgery and recovery period?

Surgery for a kidney transplant takes about 4 hours. Your kidneys stay in your body; the new kidney goes into the lower abdomen, where it’s easiest to connect it to important blood vessels and the bladder. The hospital stay is about 1 week. 

If the kidney is from a living donor, it will start working right away. If the kidney is from a deceased donor, it could take from 2 to 4 weeks to start working. You may need to have dialysis until the new kidney is working effectively.

FAQs about kidney transplantation

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