Kidney function and transplant Types Recovery time

What do your kidneys do?

Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located in the middle of your back, on either side of your spine. Each kidney is about the size of your fist. Your kidneys do some of the most important jobs in your body, such as:

  • Filtering and removing waste
  • Helping control blood pressure
  • Cleaning the blood in your body
  • Keeping the body’s balance of water, salt, and acid constant
  • Making hormones that help bone marrow make red blood cells

When you have a transplant, the donated kidney is placed into your body and connected to your blood supply and bladder. In some cases, your old kidneys are not removed.

What happens when your kidneys are not working the way
they should?

If something happens to change the way your kidneys work, it is usually because of a condition that has been attacking your kidneys over a period of time. This may lead to chronic kidney disease, a condition that generally affects both kidneys. This might be something you were born with, or it could be a problem that has developed over time. You may not experience any symptoms of kidney disease at first. However, even if you don’t have any symptoms of kidney disease, if your kidneys are not working correctly, the body’s waste and excess fluids build up. This can cause harm to your body.

Some symptoms of kidney disease you may experience include:

  • Edema
    (fluid buildup in the tissues)
  • A change in urination
    (frequency or difficulty)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Tiredness

Some conditions that may damage your kidneys and cause chronic kidney disease include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the kidneys' filtering units)
  • Polycystic kidney disease (cysts that enlarge over time)
  • Kidney stones
  • Cancer
  • Repeated urinary infections

Kidney disease may progress to kidney failure if:

When is a kidney transplant necessary?

If your kidneys are damaged and other treatments have not been working for you, your doctor may recommend that you have either kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant.

It is important to try to learn as much as you can before you make a decision. By knowing the facts, you may be able to make a more educated decision that you feel comfortable with, now and in the future. You may find it helpful to talk to other patients who have already had a kidney transplant. Don’t hesitate to talk to your transplant team about any issues or concerns you may have. They are there to help you every step of the way.

Types of kidney transplants

In order to be able to have a kidney transplant, you will need a donated kidney. There are two possible kidney transplant procedures that you may want to discuss with your transplant team so that you can decide together which option may be right for you:

  • Living donor kidney transplant
  • Deceased donor kidney transplant

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, the national 1-year survival rates for patients who received a kidney transplant from 1997 to 2004 were as high as 94% for patients who received a kidney from a deceased donor, and 98% for those who received a kidney from a living donor.

1-year survival rate for patients receiving a kidney from a deceased donor

1-year survival rate
for patients receiving
a kidney from a
living donor

As with all surgical procedures, there is also a risk of complications associated with kidney transplants. Some of the possible complications are discussed below.

Living donor kidney transplant

  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Aunts and uncles
  • Adult children
  • Cousins

A living donation is when a person gives one of his or her kidneys to a waiting recipient. Living donors can be parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, children who are at least 18 years old, and cousins.

There is also a possibility that a non-related donor may be found, but this is not as common. A non-related donor could be a spouse or a friend. However, relatives make the most successful donors because their blood and tissues are similar to yours.

  • A spouse
  • A friend
  • A co-worker
  • An altruistic donor*

*Someone who doesn’t know the patient but donates for the welfare of others

If a living donor kidney transplant is an option for you, your transplant center may have a list of requirements for the donor, including:

  • Being of a certain age
  • Ability to pass physical and psychological tests
  • Having a compatible blood type with normal kidney and liver function

Not everyone who needs a kidney transplant is a candidate for a living donor transplant. In this case, a deceased donor transplant may be an option.

Deceased donor kidney transplant

Deceased donors are people who have agreed before their death to donate their organs. If receiving a kidney from a deceased donor is an option for you, you may be put on a waiting list until a compatible kidney becomes available. It is difficult to know how long the wait might be. You may want to talk to your transplant team if you have questions regarding how long the wait might be to find a compatible kidney.


There is always a risk of complications after a kidney transplant. These may include:

  • Infection
  • Rejection of the transplanted kidney
  • Clotting of a blood vessel
  • Bleeding
  • Delayed or no function of the transplanted kidney
  • Psychological and social changes
  • Fever
  • Problems urinating
  • Abdominal bloating

If you have any concerns or questions about these complications or anything else to do with your transplant, talk to your transplant team.

National 1-year survival rates for kidney transplant patients according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network,, accessed October 7, 2014.

Kidney transplants typically take 3 to 4 hours but this may vary with each patient

Before your surgery, your transplant team will discuss the transplant and possible risks with you in detail. Kidney transplants typically take 3 to 4 hours, but this timing may vary. Your surgeon may update your family while the transplant is in progress.

After your transplant:

You may be in the hospital for about 7 days

You may have a disability period of 2 to 6 months or longer, depending on your health

  • Your health before the transplant often affects your recovery time
  • Physical therapy may be needed to help build your strength
  • Your transplant team is a resource for you and and will advise you after your transplant on certain topics, including:
    • Taking your medicines
    • Monitoring your health