A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure done to transfer a healthy kidney from a living or deceased donor into a person that has little to no kidney function.
A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure done to transfer a healthy kidney from a living or deceased donor into a patient that has little to no kidney function.
The kidneys are two organs found on each side of the spine, shaped like beans and just below the rib cage. The main role of the kidneys is to filter waste products, minerals, and fluid from the blood and convert them to urine. If the kidneys start to lose their proper function, waste products can build up, which can raise your blood pressure and result in kidney failure (end-stage kidney/renal disease).
When the kidneys lose approximately 90% of their normal function, end-stage renal disease occurs.
The loss of kidney function, known as end-stage chronic kidney disease or kidney failure, is the most common reason for needing a kidney transplant.
With the help of a blood-filtering procedure knows as dialysis, it is possible to partially replicate the functions of the kidney. However, as dialysis can be time-consuming, a kidney transplant is usually the most convenient and long-term treatment for kidney failure.
Common causes of end-stage kidney renal disease include:
Not all patients are recommended to have transplants as sometimes the procedure may be riskier than dialysis.
Conditions that may prevent you from being eligible for a kidney transplant include:
To determine whether you are a good candidate for a kidney transplant, you will be evaluated at a transplant center.
This evaluation usually involves several visits to assess your physical, psychological, and familial conditions. Your doctors will give you a complete physical exam to ensure your health for the surgery, including doing tests on your blood and urine.
If you are approved for a transplant, you and your team will then determine which type of procedure is a good match for your condition.
There are two major types of kidney transplants, Deceased-Donor Kidney Transplant, and Living-Donor Kidney Transplant.
This is when deceased donors, also called cadaver donors, who have usually died from accidents rather than a disease, choose to donate their organs for transplant.
The decision to donate can either be done by the donor themself priorly or by the victim’s family after.
Keep in mind that your body is more likely to reject a kidney from an unrelated donor. However, a deceased donor organ is a good alternative if you don’t have a family member or a relative who’s willing or able to donate a kidney.
For this type of donation, you will have to be registered in a waiting list to receive organs for transplant.
The amount of time needed for a deceased donor organ to match with you depends on:
Some people can get a donor match within a few months, and for others, it may take several years.
Because the body can function properly with just one healthy kidney, a family member or a relative with two healthy kidneys can choose to donate one of them to you.
Receiving a kidney from a family member is always preferable and advantageous since it reduces the risk that your body will reject the kidney, and it enables you to bypass the waiting list for a deceased donor.
During your evaluation for a transplant, you may undergo:
For preparations, you need to complete a set of steps to determine whether a donated kidney will be suitable for you. These tests include:
Blood typing: It is always preferable to get a kidney from a donor whose blood type matches or is most compatible with your own.
Tissue typing: If you find a donor whose blood type is matching or compatible with you, the next step is a test to do a tissue typing test, known as Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) typing.
HLA is a group of antigens located on the surface of your white blood cells. Antigens are responsible for your body’s immune response.
If your HLA type is compatible with the donor’s HLA type, there are fewer chances that your body will reject the kidney. The more antigens you have that match those of the donor, the greater the chance of a successful transplant.
Crossmatch: After you have found a donor, whether it be a living or a deceased one, you need to undergo what’s called a Crossmatch.
For this final matching test, a small sample of your blood will be mixed with the donor’s blood in the lab. This test determines whether antibodies in your blood will react against specific antigens in the donor’s blood and attack the donor organ.
If your blood shows no antibody reaction, you have what’s called a “negative crossmatch.” This means that the transplant can take place and you and your donor are a good match.
Kidney transplants are performed under general anesthesia, meaning you will be asleep during the procedure. The anesthetic will be injected into your body through an intravenous (IV) line in your hand or arm. The anesthesiologist will monitor your vital signs including your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels throughout the procedure.
Generally, a kidney transplant can take anywhere between 3-5 hours, and follows these steps:
A hospital recovery can usually take up to a week so you will have to stay in the hospital for that time.
After the surgery, you will wake up in a recovery room. The hospital staff will monitor your vital signs regularly. When they ensure your stability, you will be taken into a hospital room.
You will be regularly monitored for urine output. Living-donor kidneys may start to make urine relatively sooner. Urine production in a deceased donor kidney may take longer.
You may need to proceed with dialysis until urine output is normal.
Your doctor will put you on immunosuppressive (anti-rejection) medications to stop your body from rejecting the new kidney. You’ll need to take these drugs regularly every day to lower the chances of your body rejecting the donor’s kidney.
When your doctor determines that you are ready to be discharged from the hospital, your transplant team will give you specific instructions to know how and when to take your medications. It is crucial you stick to the schedule to prevent any chances of rejection.
After you are discharged you will need to have regular check-ups with your doctor to evaluate how well your new kidney is functioning. They may also give you additional medications for potential infections.
You will need to monitor yourself and immediately tell your physicians if you start to develop rejecting symptoms, which are covered in our Risks And Side Effects section.
Rejection Symptoms may include:
According to Mayoclinic “ Kidney transplantation can treat advanced kidney disease and kidney failure, but it is not a cure. Some forms of kidney disease may return after transplant.”
You may experience:
Kidney transplant surgery can have risks of threatening complications during the procedure, such as:
To prevent any risks of rejection of the new kidney, you will have to take immunosuppressive medication. A combination of 2 or 3 different medications is usually prescribed.
These medications can cause a range of side effects, including:
With these medications, the goal is to find the right dose so that it will be high enough to reduce the risks of rejection, yet low enough that you experience as few or no side effects as possible.
After a successful kidney transplant, your new kidney will start to function properly and filter your blood, therefore, you will no longer need dialysis.
It is vital to take all your medicines as prescribed by your doctor since skipping your medications even for a short period, can cause your body to reject
It is estimated that 90 percent of transplant recipients who get their kidney from a living donor live for at least five years after surgery. About 82 percent of those who received a kidney from a deceased donor, live for five years afterward.
After a successful transplant, your doctor may recommend you to make adjustments to your diet, to keep your new kidney healthy and functioning perfectly.
Some of your medications might induce hunger and increase your appetite and therefore make you more susceptible to gain weight. It’s important to reach a balanced and healthy eating habit with the help of a dietitian.
They may recommend:
After your recovery, and once you are cleared by your doctor, you may want to start exercising to help boost your energy levels and increase your strength.
Working out can also reduce stress and improve your overall physical and mental health. Physical activities such as walking, riding a bike, low-impact weight training, swimming, and other physical activities you enjoy daily can all be a part of a healthy, active lifestyle after transplant.
Kidney transplants are major surgeries. It is crucial to be communicative with your health care physician to make sure you are thoroughly prepared for the upcoming procedure.
If you are planning to use organs from a deceased donor, it can be emotionally challenging to be waiting on and on in the wait-list. Remember to talk with your doctor during these overwhelming times. Joining certain support groups for recipients can also be helpful to guide you through anything you may be feeling.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is to stay healthy by reducing stress and any other complications, to ensure good transplant outcomes.
You can make any inquiries you may have via our free medical consultation services. Our team of experts is ready to answer and guide you through any uncertainties regarding your conditions or treatments.