Kidney transplantation is the best way known to save a person's life after he or she 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 1 For this reason, more people are making the decision to become kidney donors.
Who can become a kidney donor?
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, typically.
What steps should I take to become a kidney donor?
If you decide to become a kidney donor, samples of your blood will be drawn for testing, including your blood type and other genetic information (which may include HLA type) to see how well you match the recipient. These tests may be repeated before the surgery if you decide to become a donor.
If your blood tests are good, you will meet with social workers at the transplant facility to discuss other obligations. You will be given information, such as how much time you will need to take off from work and details of surgery and the recovery process, that will help you make an informed decision. Your meetings with the social work team will be strictly confidential.
When will I meet with a doctor?
After you have decided to become a kidney donor and your crossmatch results are known, you will be evaluated by a doctor, usually a nephrologist. Your evaluation will begin with a medical history and physical exam. You will have a series of lab tests to screen for kidney function, including chemistry screen, 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 is involved in kidney transplant surgery?
You will be given a general anesthetic before your surgery. Until recently, the removal of a kidney required an 8 in. (20.3 cm) to 9 in. (22.9 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 are the risks of becoming a kidney 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 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.
What limitations will I have after I have donated a kidney?
Donating a kidney will not cause any limitations in your normal daily activities. After the recovery from your surgery, you will be able to resume all of your normal activities, including exercising and participating in sports.
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.
Who pays my hospital costs?
In the United States, your medical costs will be covered by the recipient's medical insurance. Most insurance companies cover 100% of the medical costs of a transplant, including pretransplant evaluations and lab tests. If the recipient does not have medical insurance, your medical costs will be covered by Medicare.
For more information on becoming a kidney donor, see:
- Transweb at www.transweb.org.
- National Kidney Foundation at www.kidney.org.
- American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP) at www.aakp.org.
- United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) at www.transplantliving.org.
- Hart A, et al. (2017). OPTN/SRTR 2015 annual data report: Kidney. American Journal of Transplantation, 17(Suppl 1): 21-116. DOI: 10.1111/ajt.14124. Accessed April 26, 2017.
Other Works Consulted
- Garg AX, et al. (2015). Gestational hypertension and preeclampsia in living kidney donors. New England Journal of Medicine, 372(2): 124–133. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1408932. Accessed September 16, 2015.
- Rudow DL, et al. (2015). Consensus conference on best practices in live kidney donation: Recommendations to optimize education, access, and care. American Journal of Transplant, 15(4): 914–22. DOI: 10.1111/ajt.13173. Accessed October 2, 2015.
- Segev DL, et al. (2010). Perioperative mortality and long-term survival following live kidney donation. JAMA, 303(10): 959–966. DOI:10.1001/jama.2010.237. Accessed September 16, 2015.
Current as of: September 9, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Current as of: September 9, 2019