Kidney donation surgery
While most people have two kidneys, people who have donated a kidney can lead active and full lives.
Kidney donor surgery is considered a very low-risk surgery with few major complications.
Laparoscopic surgery is the preferred way to do kidney donor surgeries. Laparoscopic surgery takes longer than open surgery, but donors will have less pain and faster recovery time.
You’ll be put under general anesthesia. Your surgeon will make small cuts into your abdomen. Using a tiny camera and slim surgical instruments, they’ll detach your kidney, veins, arteries, and ureter and remove them.
Your surgeon will make an incision about eight to 10 inches long on the right or left side of your abdomen. They will cut through skin and muscle to remove your kidney. Your lowest rib may need to be removed, but this won’t cause extra pain or disability.
After surgery, you’ll stay in the hospital for about five to 10 days. Your incision may fully heal in about four weeks. Internal healing may take up to six months.
You’ll need to have regular checkups in the first two years after your surgery. Follow your care team’s instructions for follow-up visits.
Donating a kidney to someone in need
Considering a kidney donation can be challenging. Talk to your healthcare provider or the transplant team to help you better understand what’s involved in donor surgery and how it may affect you.
Can you live with one kidney?
Many kidney donors live a regular life after kidney donation. Donation doesn’t affect the function or survival of your remaining kidney. Instead, your remaining kidney may increase in capacity by an average of 22.4%. This is known as “compensatory growth”.
You may want to take some steps to ensure the health of your remaining kidney:
- Drink enough fluids every day.
- There’s no specific diet needed after kidney donation, but you should maintain a healthy weight and overall health.
- Be careful with prescription drugs, as some can be bad for your kidneys. Remind your prescribing healthcare professional that you have donated a kidney.
- Check with your doctor before starting any new supplements, vitamins, and over-the-counter medications.
- Avoid contact sports that may lead to kidney injury.
- Get yearly medical checkups so that your doctor can monitor the health of your kidney.
Can donating a kidney shorten your life?
Compared to the general population, kidney donors have similar life spans. One research study even found that kidney donors may live longer than nondonors.
Researchers say that the risk of end-stage renal disease in kidney donors is similar to that of the general population. Donating a kidney is not a risk factor for diabetes or high blood pressure.
When can you return to normal activities?
Most people can return to regular life within a few months. You may be able to return to work between two to eight weeks after your surgery, depending on your job.
Your doctor may restrict you to lifting no more than 10 pounds in the first eight weeks after surgery, and no more than 20 pounds until week 12.
For more strenuous activities like competitive sports and core abdominal exercises, you may have to wait until six months after your surgery.
Are there benefits for donors?
While the removal of an organ doesn’t seem like it would improve your quality of life, there can be benefits to donors as well. Knowing that your kidney helped save a person’s life is one major benefit.
In the US, more than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for an organ transplant. The waiting time for a deceased donor organ can be many years. As a living organ donor, you help shorten the wait.
Many donors say that they have an excellent quality of life after kidney donation. Nearly all of the donors would choose to donate again.
Some donors may have given up unhealthy habits to be able to donate. This includes excessive drinking, smoking, or unhealthy eating. Some are motivated to continue with a healthy lifestyle after their donor surgery.
Medically Reviewed on 11/2/2021
Health Resources & Services Administration: “Organ Donation Statistics.”
Journal of Nephrology: “Living kidney donors’ long-term psychological status and health behavior after nephrectomy – a retrospective study.”
Loma Linda University Health: “Living Kidney Donor Program.”?
Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation: “Risks in life after living kidney donation.”
Transplant Proceedings: “Compensatory Hypertrophy After Living Donor Nephrectomy.”
Transplantation: “Kidney donors live longer.”
UCLA Health: “Adult Kidney Transplant.”
University of Rochester Medical Center: “Living Kidney Donor Handbook.”
University of Wisconsin Transplant Program: “Living Kidney Donation: The Surgery.”
UTSouthwestern Medical Center: “What potential donors need to know about living kidney donation.”