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Donating a Kidney

Overview

Kidney transplantation is the best way known to save a person's life after the person develops kidney failure. In the past, kidneys were only taken from living close relatives or from people who had recently died. Transplants from living donors have a better chance of success than those from deceased donors. Also, in the United States some people wait more than 5 years for a cadaver kidney. footnote 1For this reason, more people are choosing to become kidney donors.

A living donor needs to be:

  • In good general health.
  • Free from diseases that can damage the organs, such as diabetes, uncontrolled high blood pressure, or cancer.
  • At least 18 years old, in most cases.

What to know

  • You can donate to someone you know or to someone in need by donating to the national waiting list.
  • You need a number of medical tests before you can donate.
  • You don't pay for your medical costs.
  • All major religions allow organ donation. If you have questions about your religion's views on organ donation, talk to your faith leader.
  • Some organizations won't accept people with only one kidney. These include fire departments and branches of the military.
  • To learn more about kidney donation, contact the National Kidney Foundation, the American Association of Kidney Patients, or the United Network for Organ Sharing.

What tests are done before you become a donor?

After you decide to be a kidney donor, you will get a blood test called a cross-match. This test shows whether the recipient's body will immediately reject your donor organ.

Next you will be evaluated by a doctor, usually a nephrologist. The doctor will do a physical exam and ask about your past health. You will have a series of lab tests to screen for kidney function. These include a chemistry screen (blood test), urinalysis, and urine tests for protein. You may also have a CT scan of the kidneys to evaluate your kidneys, urinary tract, and other structures in your pelvis.

What are the risks of being a donor?

Removing a kidney from your body involves major surgery. There is a risk of complications from surgery, such as pain, infection, pneumonia, and bleeding.

A person can live with only one healthy kidney. But doctors are learning that donating a kidney may increase the chance of certain health problems in the years after the donation. More research is being done to better understand the long-term risks.

Donating a kidney doesn't affect a person's fertility. For example, it won't affect a woman's ability to become pregnant or a man's ability to impregnate a woman. But if a woman has donated a kidney, her risk for preeclampsia or high blood pressure during a pregnancy may be higher.

Donating an organ can affect you and your family. Many emotional issues are involved. There may be costs such as travel expenses and lost wages. And organ donation may affect your insurance coverage.

If you are thinking about donating a kidney, your medical team will help you understand the pros and cons so you can make the decision that's right for you.

How is the surgery done?

You will be given a general anesthetic before your surgery. Until recently, the removal of a kidney required an 8 in. (20 cm) to 9 in. (23 cm) incision on one side of the body (flank). Now, laparoscopy is usually used to remove the donor kidney. Advantages of laparoscopic kidney removal include less pain, shorter hospital stays, a more rapid return to normal activities, and a smaller, less noticeable scar.

What can you expect as you recover?

Donating a kidney won't limit what your body can do. After you recover, you will be able to do all of your normal activities. You can exercise and take part in sports.

References

Citations

  1. Hart A, et al. (2019). OPTN/SRTR 2017 annual data report: Kidney. American Journal of Transplantation, 19(Suppl 2): 19–23. DOI: 10.1111/ajt.15274. Accessed August, 16, 2019.

Credits

Current as of: May 4, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine

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