An individual may need a kidney transplant when their kidneys cannot function on their own. This can happen for several reasons, from kidney stone disease to high blood pressure. Yet surgery always has a risk, and some people’s bodies reject the transplanted kidney.

This article provides an overview of kidney donation.

After discussing the importance of kidney donation, it explains eligibility for kidney transplants and details the types of people who may be kidney donors.

This article also outlines kidney transplant risks, procedures, and recovery.

A healthcare professional speaking with a person who has donated a kidney.Share on Pinterest
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During a kidney transplant, a doctor uses surgical techniques to provide someone with a new kidney. This person getting the new kidney is called the recipient. The new kidney comes from a different person, who is the kidney donor.

The kidneys are important organs. They have a variety of functions, such as:

  • removing waste products from the body
  • maintaining a healthy electrolyte balance
  • producing several important hormones

As a 2022 review explains, kidney transplants are necessary when somebody’s kidneys no longer function.

People may need a kidney transplant for several reasons.

As a 2021 review explains, kidney transplants are a good treatment for end stage kidney disease. End stage kidney disease occurs when someone’s kidneys are unable to work on their own.

According to the review, research indicates that several conditions can cause end stage kidney disease. These include:

People may also require a kidney transplant after an acute kidney injury.

Some people cannot receive a kidney transplant because they have a health condition that would make this procedure too harmful to their health.

For example, according to experts, the following people are unable to have surgery:

  • people with a severe cardiovascular disease
  • people who have cancer
  • people with an active infection

Doctors may also refuse kidney transplants to vulnerable individuals and people with certain medical conditions. Doctors can also refuse kidney transplants to people whose life expectancy is less than the likely waiting time for a kidney donor.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), there are two main forms of kidney donation:

  • Living kidney donor: A living person can donate one kidney, provided that they have another healthy kidney. This is because an individual needs only one functional kidney.
  • Deceased kidney donor: A living person can register to donate one or both kidneys after death. This includes both brain death and cardiac death.

According to the aforementioned 2022 review, people experience the best results when receiving kidneys from living donors.

Scientists have determined two main forms of risk to living kidney donors. One kind of risk stems from the fact that living kidney donors have only one kidney.

Although the body needs only one functioning kidney, the living donor could experience health effects that result from lacking their own backup kidney.

Indeed, scientists say that living kidney donors are slightly more likely to develop end stage kidney disease, when compared to similarly healthy non-donors.

The other kind of risk comes from surgery, which can involve serious complications. These include infections and hemorrhage.

The same research from 2022 shows that kidney transplant surgeries also carry surgical risks for recipients, also called donees. Recipients also face the additional risk of kidney transplantation rejection. This occurs when the recipient’s body rejects the new kidney.

As another research review from 2022 explains, kidney transplantation rejection occurs because the immune system can mistake the donor’s kidney for a threatening object. Certain immunosuppressive drugs can help prevent this process.

Transplantation rejection sometimes forces doctors to remove the new kidney.

An individual’s doctor will explain to them how to prepare for surgery. This may involve a period of fasting, which research from 2020 suggests can sometimes be useful. The doctor will also detail the nature of the surgical procedure.

The exact details of a kidney transplant may vary from case to case. However, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provides some information about the typical procedure:

  • The surgery occurs under general anesthesia.
  • It takes between 3 to 4 hours.
  • Doctors attach a new kidney, connecting it to veins, arteries, and the bladder.

It is unusual for doctors to remove the old, dysfunctional kidneys. This will only happen if the kidneys are cancerous or infected, or if they cause high blood pressure.

Both donors and recipients will need to take some time to recover from the surgery. Recipients may also have to wait before they notice any beneficial results. This is because the body must adapt to the new kidney.


Recovery times will vary from person to person. Of course, there are also some general trends.

A 2019 review found that 39.4% of kidney transplant recipients return to work within 1 year of the transplant. Contrastingly, a 2017 study suggests that 76% of kidney transplant donors return to work within 5 to 6 weeks of the transplant.


If the recipient’s body does not reject the new kidney, they reacquire kidney function. According to the American Kidney Fund, this should last for an average of 15–20 years, with a living kidney donor. For deceased kidney donors, that figure is closer to 10–15 years.

The HRSA provides information about becoming a kidney donor. When it comes to donations after death, a living individual must sign up to become an organ donor, in the state in which they live, after they die.

Anyone interested in donating a kidney after death can take the next steps here.

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) manages living organ donations. In order to become a living donor, an individual must be over age 18. They must also be in good physical and mental health.

Information about becoming a living kidney donor is available here.

End stage kidney disease is a serious health condition. Kidney transplants are an important treatment option for people with this condition. Although the procedure has its risks, its rewards can last for a long time.