A kidney transplant is the replacement of a nonfunctioning kidney with a healthy donor kidney to restore proper waste management and blood filtering in the body. Candidates for kidney transplantation are typically patients who have kidney failure, or are in the advanced stages of kidney disease that has not responded to treatments such as medication and dialysis. The replacement kidney can come from a living or deceased donor. Although there are several risks associated with kidney transplantation, it is often effective in restoring kidney function.
Benefits of a Kidney Transplant
Many patients feel that kidney transplants are better options than ongoing dialysis because they offer a better quality of life. Not all patients are medically eligible for a transplant, however; a full medical evaluation is made before eligibility is determined.
Kidney Transplant Eligibility
A kidney transplant is performed after the patient is determined eligible, and a suitable kidney is found. A thorough physical evaluation is made prior to surgery to determine whether or not the patient is healthy enough to withstand it. Prior to a kidney transplant, a patient may undergo the following tests to determine eligibility:
- Blood tests
- Tissue and blood typing
Tests to detect signs of cancer may also be performed.
Kidney Transplant Procedure
A kidney transplant is performed in a hospital, with the patient under general anesthesia, and takes about 3 hours. In most cases, the original kidney is not removed unless it is severely infected, cancerous or enlarged. If the original kidney is removed, the surgeon makes an incision in the abdomen; muscle, fat, and tissue are cut and moved. The ureter and blood vessels are cut away from the diseased or nonfunctioning kidney, and the kidney is removed. The adrenal gland and some lymph nodes may be taken out. The surgeon attaches the arteries and veins of the new kidney, and places it inside the body; he or she then attaches the ureter to the bladder. The new kidney will begin to function as the original one did.
Complications from a Kidney Transplant
The most serious possible complication from a kidney transplant is rejection, in which the body's immune system treats the new kidney as a foreign substance, and tries to destroy it; immunosuppressive medication is given to prevent rejection. Other possible complications of a kidney transplant include the following:
- Blood clots
- Reaction to medications
Damage to other organs is also a possible complication from a kidney transplant.
Recovery from a Kidney Transplant
After a kidney transplant, the patient stays in the hospital from 3 to 7 days. Medications to help prevent kidney rejection and infection are given; a recommendation may be made to follow a restricted diet for a few days. After leaving the hospital, the patient will need ongoing checkups. Full recovery from a kidney transplant takes about 6 months.
A kidney transplant can be a successful procedure as long as the patient participates in the necessary follow-up care.