Authored by Revere Health

What You Need to Know About Kidney Transplants

January 18, 2017 | Nephrology

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The kidneys are vital organs in the body responsible for filtering out waste and preventing many infections and basic diseases in the body, and this is a function that the body simply cannot go without. Without this filtration system, the body is exposed to several potential problems.

For this reason, when kidneys lose their ability to function properly, they have to be replaced in a process called a kidney transplant. A kidney transplant involves a healthy kidney from a donor being placed in the body of a person whose kidneys are failing. A transplant can sometimes come from a living donor, or sometimes from a deceased donor.

What causes most kidney failures that require a transplant, and what are the types of transplants and risks associated with them?

End-Stage Renal Disease

In most cases, kidney failure is caused by (and often referred to as) end-stage renal disease. End-stage renal disease happens anytime the kidneys have lost at least 90 percent of their functionality, and have stopped performing the waste filtering function they’re meant for.


End-stage renal disease is generally caused by a few different conditions, which include:

  • Chronic high blood pressure
  • • Chronic glomerulonephritis – inflammation and scarring of the glomeruli, which are the actual filtering mechanisms in your kidneys
  • • Diabetes
  • • Polycystic kidney disease – an inherited kidney disease involving cysts developing in the kidneys


There are three primary types of kidney transplant available:

  • • Deceased-donor transplant: A transplant that comes from someone who has recently died. The deceased person will need to have a donor card to authorize doctors to remove their organs, which are stored in ice or connected to a machine to give them oxygen to stay alive. Over two thirds of kidney transplants are from deceased donors, and there is a large waiting list in the United States for these transplants.
  • • Living-donor transplant: When a living person has a kidney removed and placed in someone with kidney failure. Living-donor transplants are generally preferable because you spend less time on a waiting list, and they have higher survival rates than deceased-donor transplants. The kidney does usually have to be from someone you know, however.
  • • Pre-emptive transplant: A transplant that happens before you’ve experienced full end-stage renal symptoms. Pre-emptive transplants have higher rates of success and lower rejection rates, though they’re still not very common because of lack of supply and doctor recommendations.

Risks and Complications

Kidney transplants are not an end-all cure, and there is no guarantee that they prevent symptoms forever. The main risks, side effects and complications are broken up into three categories:

  1. 1. Surgery risks: Natural risks involved in open surgery, such as infection, blood clots, bleeding and even stroke. In extreme cases, these can result in death.
  2. 2. Rejection or failure of the new kidney.
  3. 3. Anti-rejection medication side effects: Medication will often be prescribed to help the body accept the new kidney and not reject it, but these medications can cause several side effects. These include diabetes, acne, hair loss, high blood pressure and cholesterol, weight gain, infection and bone damage. They can also lead to a higher risk of some cancers.

These are very real risks, but in most cases of kidney failure, the only other option is usually much worse. It’s virtually unheard of for kidney failure to correct itself naturally, and the body cannot survive without at least one functioning kidney. If you have any concerns about your kidney health, or are experiencing kidney failure and need to know about your options, speak with your doctor.


Are you concerned about your kidney function? Talk with your primary care physician about seeing a nephrology specialist.


“Kidney Transplant.” The Mayo Clinic.

“Kidney Transplant.” National Kidney Foundation.


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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.