A kidney transplant is a surgery to replace a diseased or damaged kidney with a donor kidney. The donor may be a relative or friend. The donor can also be someone who has died and donated their organs.
Normal Anatomy of the Kidney
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Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like: InfectionUrinary/ureteral obstructionBleedingRejection of the new kidneyUrine leakage into the bodyBlood clotDamage to blood vessels or nervesDamage to nearby organsCancer risk due to prolonged use of immunosuppressive drugs
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include: SmokingPre-existing medical conditions, especially certain heart, lung, and liver diseasesAutoimmune diseaseCurrent infectionHIV infectionYoung age or increased age—of either you or the donorPoorly matching tissue between you and the donorPrior failed transplantPregnancyConditions that will likely result in a recurrence of kidney failure in the new kidney
There is a shortage of donors. You may be on a transplant list for some time. You may need to carry a cell phone with you at all times. This will allow the transplant team to reach you if a kidney becomes available.
Your doctor will likely do the following: Physical examReview of medicationsBlood tests, including blood chemistries, liver function tests, bleeding profile, and infection testingExtensive tissue typingElectrocardiogram
Chest x-rayPsychological testing and counseling—to help you to be prepared for the transplant
Leading up to your procedure:
as instructed by your doctor.
Talk to your doctor about your medications. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure.Take medications as directed. Do not take over-the-counter medications without checking with your doctor.Eat a light meal the night before. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.Arrange for someone to drive you home. Also, arrange for someone to help you at home.
An incision will be made in the lower abdomen. The donated kidney will be connected to your arteries, veins, and ureter, which is the tube that carries the urine to the bladder. In most cases, a diseased kidney will be left in place unless it is is causing problems or if room is needed for the transplant. The incision will be closed. The new kidney may start producing urine right away or within a short time.
You will be closely monitored in the intensive care unit (ICU) and will have the following devices: Breathing tube until you can breathe on your ownIV fluids and medicationBladder catheter to drain urine
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
This procedure is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay is 1-2 weeks. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if you have complications.
While you are recovering at the hospital, you will need to: Get out of bed the day after surgery.Breathe deeply and cough 10-20 times every hour—this will help your lungs work better after surgery.Take immunosuppressive drugs—you will need to take these for the rest of your life. These drugs reduce the chance that your body will reject the new kidney.Wear compression stockings to reduce the risk of blood clots.
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
Take medication as advised by your doctor, which may include:
Steroids to reduce inflammatoin and to prevent rejectionDiuretics to stimulate kidney function and control blood pressureYour new kidney needs to be monitored. Have tests and exams done as directed.Weigh yourself daily. Also, measure the amount of fluids you take in and the amount of urine you pass.Restrict the amount of salt and protein that you eat.If advised by your doctor, avoid alcohol for at least one year.
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor: Signs of infection, including fever and chillsRedness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the incision sitePassing no or only small amounts of urinePain, burning, urgency, frequency of urination, or persistent bleeding in the urineVomiting, black or tarry stools, diarrhea, or constipationAbdominal pain or crampingSore throat or mouth soresCough, shortness of breath, or any chest painCoughing up bloodSevere headacheHeadache, confusion, lightheadedness, or loss of consciousnessPain and/or swelling in your feet, calves, or legsWeight gain greater than 3 pounds in one day
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Akbar SA, Jafri ZH, Amendola MA, et al. Complications of renal transplantation.
Halloran PF. Immunosuppressive drugs for kidney transplantation.
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Kidney transplant. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at:https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/kidneytransnewlease. Accessed August 13, 2014.
Kidney (renal) transplantation.Urology Care Foundation website. Available at:
http://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/kidney-transplant. Updated January 2011. Accessed August 13, 2014.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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