What is Kidney transplant?

By Medically reviewed by Dr. Duyen Le

Know the basics

What is Kidney transplant?

A kidney transplant is an operation to transfer a healthy kidney from one person (donor) to another (recipient). The recipient is a patient who has chronic kidney failure. The kidney is an organ used to flush out waste from your blood. When the kidney does not work properly, waste starts to build up in the blood. This leads to complications in the body.

There are many reasons why a person may have chronic kidney failure. Some reasons may include:

  • Diabetes Type 1 or Type 2;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Glomerulonephritis, an inflammation of the kidney’s filtering units (glomeruli);
  • Interstitial nephritis, an inflammation of the kidney’s tubules and surrounding structures;
  • Polycystic kidney disease;
  • Prolonged obstruction of the urinary tract, from conditions such as enlarged prostate, kidney stones and some cancers;
  • Vesicoureteral reflux, a condition that causes urine to back up into your kidneys;
  • Recurrent kidney infection, also called pyelonephritis;
  • In many cases, a kidney transplant can save a person’s life to live longer and healthier.

Why is Kidney transplant performed?

Your doctor will evaluate your current condition. You may receive a kidney transplant for the following reasons:

  • You are in healthy condition for surgery;
  • The benefits for the kidney transplant outweighs the risk;
  • You have tried and failed alternative treatments;
  • You understand the risk of complications;
  • You understand you will be taking immunosuppressant medication and attending regular follow-up appointments.

Understand the risks

What are the risks of Kidney transplant?

There are many reasons why a kidney transplant may not be the best option. Please let your doctor know if you have any of the following:

  • Ongoing infection (this will need to be treated first);
  • Heart disease;
  • Liver failure;
  • Cancer that has spread to several places in your body (metastatic cancer);
  • AIDS (the final and most serious stage of an HIV infection).

You should also know that getting a kidney for your transplant might take some time. You may be put on a waitlist for the next healthy kidney is ready for your transplant. The kidney needs to be the right match before considering you as a recipient. The donor must have the same tissue type and blood group as you. This will reduce the risk of your body rejecting the kidney.

A kidney transplant is a major surgical procedure with a wide range of potential risks. Because of the risk of further problems, people who have had a kidney transplant may require on-going and regular check-ups.

Although rates of serious complications have fallen sharply in the last few decades, kidney transplants – like any other type of surgery – are not risk free.

The risks of a kidney transplant can arise from a number of factors:

  • Risks related to the procedure itself;
  • Risks related to the use of immunosuppressant medications (medications that reduce the activity of your immune system);
  • Risks related to something going wrong with the transplanted kidney.

Most complications occur in the first few months after a transplant, but complications can still develop after many years.

Both short-term and long-term complications of a kidney transplant are discussed below.

Short-term complications

  • Blocking of the blood vessels;
  • Blocking or leaking of your ureter;
  • Delayed working of the kidney;
  • Acute rejection of the kidney;
  • Infections;
  • Collection of fluid;
  • Temporary damage to nerves;
  • Transferring cancer or infection.

Long-term complications

  • Failure of the kidney;
  • Blocking of your ureter;
  • Narrowing of the artery that supplies the kidney.

It is important you understand the risks and complications before having this surgery. If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor or surgeon for more information.

Know what happens

How do I prepare for Kidney transplant?

Usually before a kidney transplant, you will be evaluated by a transplant specialist. Your specialist will want to make sure that you are a good candidate for kidney transplant. You will have several visits over a period of several weeks or months. You will need to have blood drawn and x-rays taken.

Tests done before the procedure include:

  • Tissue and blood typing to help make sure your body will not reject the donated kidney;
  • Blood tests or skin tests to check for infections;
  • Heart tests such as an EKG, echocardiogram, or cardiac catheterization;
  • Tests to look for early cancer.

You will also want to consider one or more hospitals that specializes in transplants to determine which is best for you.

  • Ask your specialist how many transplants he performs every year and what his survival rates are. Compare these numbers to specialist;
  • Ask about support groups they have available and what type of travel and housing arrangements they offer.

If your specialist believes you are a good candidate for a kidney transplant, you will be put on a waiting list.

Your place on a waiting list is based on a number of factors. Key factors include the type of kidney problems you have, how severe your heart disease is, and the likelihood that a transplant will be successful.

For adults, the amount of time you spend on a waiting list is not often a factor in how soon you get a kidney. Depending on if the donor is a suitable match you can receive your kidney sooner rather than later. While you are waiting for a kidney, it is recommended that you:

  • Follow any diet your transplant team recommends;
  • Do not drink alcohol;
  • Do not smoke;
  • Keep your weight in the range that has been recommended. Follow any recommended exercise program;
  • Take all medicines as they have been prescribed for you. Report any changes in your medicines and any new or worsening medical problems to the transplant team;
  • Go to all regular visits with your regular doctor and transplant team. Make sure the transplant team has the correct phone numbers so they can contact you right away if a kidney becomes available. Always make sure that you can be contacted quickly and easily;
  • Have everything ready in advance to go to the hospital.

What happens during Kidney transplant?

Kidney transplant surgery takes about 3 hours.  People receiving a kidney transplant are given general anesthesia before surgery.

  • The surgeon makes a cut in the lower belly area.
  • Your surgeon places the new kidney inside your lower belly. The artery and vein of the new kidney are connected to the artery and vein in your pelvis. Your blood flows through the new kidney, which makes urine just like your own kidneys did when they were healthy. The tube that carries urine (ureter) is then attached to your bladder.
  • Your own kidneys are left in place unless they are causing a medical problem. Unless they are causing high blood pressure, infections, or are too large for your body. The wound is then closed.

If you have any questions or concerns, please consult with your doctor or surgeon for more information.


What happens after Kidney transplant?

After your transplant surgery, you’ll usually stay in the hospital for three to four days to recover. Your transplant doctor will follow-up with your recovery process during your stay in the hospital.

  • Care after your transplant.After leaving the hospital, you will need to stay near the hospital for two to three weeks so your transplant doctor can monitor your new kidney function and your recovery.
  • Follow-up care.Your transplant doctor will update your primary health care doctor about your progress and give recommendations for your care at home. You’ll have follow-up appointments on an annual basis or more frequently if necessary.
  • Medications.You’ll need to take immunosuppressant medications for life to keep your body from rejecting your kidney. Your transplant team will discuss your new medications in detail.
  • Returning to wellness.The transplant doctor considers your return to wellness after your transplant a priority. You’ll be given specific guidelines to increase your activity through a supervised exercise plan and nutrition plan. Your transplant doctor and nurse will work with you to help you make healthy lifestyle choices to achieve an optimal transplant outcome.

A successful kidney transplant requires close follow-up with your doctor and you must always take your medicine as directed.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: September 6, 2018 | Last Modified: September 6, 2018