The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. A licensed healthcare professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions.

About Kidney Transplant

A kidney transplant is an operation performed by a transplant surgeon in which a healthy kidney from another person (donor) is placed into your body to replace your non-working kidneys. Transplanted kidneys come from two sources:

  • Living donors - can be related or non-related
  • Cadaver donors - people who decide to donate their organs when they die

A transplanted kidney is the closest you can get to your own kidneys. Transplantation is just a treatment for kidney disease, not a cure. Not everyone is right for a kidney transplant. Doctors, social workers, and a transplant coordinator will evaluate your general health. To be considered for a transplant, a number of tests will be performed. The tests will check your heart, lungs and other body functions. There are very few kidneys donated compared to the number of people who are waiting for one; it can take years before a suitable donor is found. How long you will have to wait depends on:

  • The number of kidneys available
  • How rare your blood type is
  • Your general health
  • How long you have been on the list

How kidney transplant is done

What a kidney transplant looks like

click to enlarge

The donor's blood is tested to make sure that it is free from diseases that can be transmitted with a transplanted kidney. The transplant centre will also test your blood to see if the donated kidney is acceptable for you (a match). The transplant surgery can then take place. After surgery, you will spend several days in the hospital and several weeks at home recovering. It may take a few days or even a few weeks for your new kidney to start working. You must continue using dialysis until the new kidney begins to work.

Preventing kidney rejection with medication

You'll need to take medications to help prevent rejection every day for as long as the transplanted kidney works. Rejection means your body is trying to get rid of something foreign, something that doesn't belong— including your new kidney. Immunosuppressive medications will help your body prevent rejection, but it will also lower your resistance to infection. That means it is easier for you to get sick. These drugs can produce side effects such as:

  • Weight gain
  • Skin changes
  • Puffiness of the face
  • Mood swings
  • Upset stomach

Discuss any side effects with your doctor. These medications can be expensive, check with your insurance company about your specific coverage. Your transplant team may help you find local or government-based programs that may help pay for these medications. If you do not take your medications as prescribed, your transplanted kidney will stop working. You may think the medications are not working because you may feel no difference between when you take them and when you don't. But taking these medicines is one way to make sure your transplanted kidney stays healthy. Although some patients take their medications, some new transplants are rejected or never begin to work. If this happens, you must return to dialysis. You and your doctor can decide whether you would like to return to the transplant waiting list.

How will a transplant affect your lifestyle?

After your transplant, you will have very few dietary restrictions. However, it is still important to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. With your doctor's approval, you'll be able to participate in most sports and can travel freely. Although you may feel good after your kidney transplant, it is still very important to continue to visit your doctor regularly and take your medications as prescribed.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Is closest to having your own kidneys
  • No dialysis treatment required once kidneys start working
  • Longer life than with dialysis
  • Fewer fluid and diet restrictions
  • Feel healthier and have more energy
  • Work full-time without worrying about a dialysis schedule
  • Stress of waiting for a match
  • Risks associated with major surgery
  • Risk of rejection - your transplant may not last a lifetime
  • Daily medications required - which can cause side effects
  • Susceptibility to infection
  • Possible changes in your appearance due to medications side effects

Kidney Disease Resources

For additional resources on kidney disease, please click on one of the links below.