A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure to place a healthy kidney from a donor into a person whose kidneys no longer function properly.
Your kidneys remove excess fluid and waste from your blood. When your kidneys lose their filtering ability, dangerous levels of fluid and waste accumulate in your body — a condition known as kidney failure. A kidney transplant is often the best treatment for kidney failure.
Only one donated kidney is needed to replace two failed kidneys, making living-donor kidney transplantation an option. If a compatible living donor isn't available for a kidney transplant, your name may be placed on a kidney transplant waiting list to receive a kidney from a deceased donor. The wait could be a year or more.
Why it's done
A kidney transplant is used to treat kidney failure, a condition in which your kidneys can function at only a fraction of normal capacity. People with end-stage kidney disease need either artificial blood filtering (dialysis) or a kidney transplant to stay alive.
Common causes of end-stage kidney failure include:
Sometimes kidney failure can be managed with diet, medication and treatment for the underlying cause. If despite these steps, your kidneys still can't filter your blood properly, you might be a candidate for a kidney transplant. In fact, if you have no other life-threatening medical conditions, a kidney transplant could be a better option than dialysis because it may provide a better long-term quality of life.
Complications of the procedure
Anti-rejection medication side effects
How you prepare
Choosing a transplant center
When you're considering transplant centers, you may want to:
After you've selected a transplant center, you'll need an evaluation to determine whether you meet the center's eligibility requirements for a kidney transplant.
The team at the transplant center will assess whether you:
Finding a donor
If a compatible living donor isn't available, your name will be placed on a waiting list for a deceased-donor kidney. Because of the success of kidney transplants in treating kidney failure, the waiting list has grown significantly over the last 20 years. The waiting time for a deceased donor kidney can be a year or more.
If you're waiting for a donated kidney, make sure the transplant team knows how to reach you at all times. Keep your packed hospital bag handy, and arrange transportation to the transplant center in advance.
What you can expect
During a kidney transplant
The surgical team monitors your heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen throughout the procedure with a blood pressure cuff on your arm and heart-monitor wires attached to your chest. After you're unconscious:
Kidney transplant surgery usually lasts about three to five hours.
After a kidney transplant
During kidney transplant surgery, the donor kidney is placed in your lower abdomen. Blood vessels of the new kidney are attached to blood vessels in the lower part of your abdomen, just above one of ...
After a successful kidney transplant, your new kidney will filter your blood, so you will no longer need dialysis. But, unless the kidney is donated by an identical twin, your immune system will try to reject your new kidney. So you'll require medications to suppress your immune system. You'll likely take these or similar drugs for the rest of your life. Because medications to suppress your immune system make your body more vulnerable to infection, your doctor may also prescribe antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal medications.
Kidney transplant survival rates
If your new kidney fails, you can resume dialysis or consider a second transplant. You may also choose to discontinue treatment. This important decision depends on your current health, your ability to withstand surgery and your expectations for maintaining a certain quality of life.
Last Updated: 2009-10-10
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