A kidney transplant is the transfer of a healthy kidney from one person into the body of a person who has little or no kidney function.
The main role of the kidneys is to filter waste products from the blood and convert them to urine. If the kidneys lose this ability, waste products can build up, which is potentially life-threatening.
This loss of kidney function, known as end-stage chronic kidney disease or kidney failure, is the most common reason for needing a kidney transplant.
It's possible to partially replicate the functions of the kidney using a blood filtering procedure known as dialysis. However, this can be inconvenient and time-consuming, so a kidney transplant is the treatment of choice for kidney failure whenever possible.
Signs & Symptoms:
A kidney transplant is used to treat kidney failure (end-stage kidney disease), a condition in which your kidneys can function at only a fraction of normal capacity. People with end-stage kidney disease need either to have waste removed from their bloodstream (dialysis) or a kidney transplant to stay alive.
Common causes of end-stage kidney disease include:
Chronic, uncontrolled high blood pressure
Chronic glomerulonephritis — an inflammation and eventual scarring of the tiny filters within your kidneys (glomeruli)
Polycystic kidney disease
Sometimes kidney disease can be managed with diet, medication and treatment for the underlying cause. If despite these steps your kidneys still can't filter your blood adequately, you might be a candidate for a kidney transplant.
Complications of the Procedure:
Kidney transplant surgery carries a risk of significant complications, including:
Leaking from or blockage of the tube (ureter) that links the kidney to the bladder
Failure of the donated kidney
Rejection of the donated kidney
An infection or cancer that can be transmitted with the donated kidney
Death, heart attack and stroke
Anti-rejection medication side effects
After a kidney transplant, you'll take medications to help prevent your body from rejecting the donor kidney. These medications can cause a variety of side effects, including:
Bone thinning (osteoporosis) and bone damage (osteonecrosis)
Excessive hair growth or hair loss
High blood pressure
Increased risk of cancer, particularly skin cancer and lymphoma
During a Kidney Transplant:
Kidney transplants are performed with general anesthesia, so you're not aware during the procedure. The surgical team monitors your heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen level throughout the procedure.
During the Surgery:
The surgeon makes an incision and places the new kidney in your lower abdomen. Unless your own kidneys are causing complications such as high blood pressure, kidney stones, pain or infection, they are left in place.
The blood vessels of the new kidney are attached to blood vessels in the lower part of your abdomen, just above one of your legs.
The new kidney's ureter — the tube that links the kidney to the bladder — is connected to your bladder.
Kidney transplant surgery usually lasts about three to four hours.
After a Kidney Transplant:
After your kidney transplant, you can expect to:
Spend several days to a week in the hospital. Doctors and nurses monitor your condition in the hospital's transplant recovery area to watch for signs of complications. Your new kidney will make urine like your own kidneys did when they were healthy. Often this starts immediately. In other cases it takes several days. Expect soreness or pain around the incision site while you're healing.
Have frequent checkups as you continue recovering. After you leave the hospital, close monitoring is necessary for a few weeks. Your transplant team will develop a checkup schedule for you. During this time, if you live in another town, you may need to make arrangements to stay near the transplant center.
Take medications the rest of your life. You'll take a number of medications after your kidney transplant. Drugs called immunosuppressant help keep your immune system from attacking your new kidney. Additional drugs help reduce the risk of other complications, such as infection, after your transplant.
Kidney Transplant Survival Rates:
According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network:
About 98 percent of people who receive a living-donor kidney transplant live for at least one year after their transplant surgery.
About 90 percent live for at least five years live for at least one year after their transplant surgery.
About 94 percent of adults who receive a deceased-donor kidney transplant live for at least one year after their transplant surgery.
About 82 percent live for at least five years after their transplant surgery.
Results for each transplant center can be found at the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.