Overview of kidney transplants
A kidney transplant surgically gives a donor kidney to a person with little to no kidney function. The donor kidney replaces the damaged or diseased kidney.
If you are experiencing kidney failure, talk to your doctor at Dignity Health to learn if a kidney transplant is right for you. Schedule a consultation to learn more by using our Find a Doctor tool.
Why it's necessary
Filtering waste is necessary to keep you healthy. While people with diminished kidney function can get by temporarily on dialysis, transplanted kidneys are more effective. Kidney transplants also increase quality of life, decrease risk of death, require fewer dietary restrictions, and are ultimately cheaper.
Once you and your doctor decide you'd like to pursue a transplant, you will be referred to a transplant center where you'll undergo tests to see if you are a good candidate. These tests will include checking your heart and other organs, blood work, and mental and emotional health checks.
The transplant team will also check the donor's blood against your blood to predict whether your immune system will accept the new kidney. This process is called cross-matching. Testing and evaluation can take several weeks or months over many visits.
Common conditions treated with a kidney transplant
Kidney transplants treat end-stage kidney, or renal, disease (ESRD), and other serious kidney conditions. Causes of ESRD include:
- Hereditary kidney diseases
- High blood pressure
- Kidney tumors
- Chronic glomerulonephritis, the inflammation and scarring of the filters in your kidneys
- Polycystic kidney disease
For patients suffering from end-stage renal disease, the only way to remove waste from the bloodstream is through a machine called dialysis. Dialysis and transplants are the only ways to keep them alive.
There are two types of kidney transplants: deceased donor transplant and living donor transplant. Deceased donor transplants use a healthy kidney from someone who has just died. This type of transplant requires you to be placed on a waitlist for a compatible kidney to become available.
Living donor transplants use kidneys from someone who is still alive, generally a family member or friend. There is also the option that if your living donor kidney is not a good match for you, it could be donated to someone else and you could receive the kidney from someone else's preferred donor.
Surgeries with living donors can be scheduled in advance and do not require you to be placed on a waitlist.
As with any surgery, there are certain risks to be aware of before the procedure. Some people may be more at risk than others, depending on these factors:
- Severe heart disease
- Poorly controlled mental illness
- Alcohol or drug use
The most significant risk from a kidney transplant is that the donor kidney is rejected. Possible complications from surgery include:
- Bleeding and blood clots
- Leaking or blockage in the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder
- Infections or cancer transmitted through the donor kidney
- Heart attack, stroke, or death
After the surgery, you will be required to take medications to keep your body from rejecting the kidney. These medications may have side effects, such as:
- Bone thinning or damage
- High blood pressure or cholesterol
- Hair growth or loss
- Increased risk of cancer
- Weight gain
You will discuss all of these risks with your doctor and determine the best course of action.
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.