Life After Kidney Transplant
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Life After Kidney Transplant: What to Know

If you are on this page for yourself or a loved one, you want to know what to expect from life after undergoing a kidney transplant surgery. You also might have some burning questions but let us discuss the basics before we get to the juicy parts.

What is a kidney transplant?

kidney transplant
Picture courtesy: Cleveland Clinic

Also referred to as renal transplant, it is a treatment for end-stage renal disease and renal failure. It involves surgery where a healthy kidney is taken from a donor and placed into an individual whose kidneys do not function properly or have failed. One can obtain a donated kidney either from a living or deceased donor. A successful kidney transplant is an ideal solution that mimics natural kidney function and is the most effective therapy for end-stage renal disease. Potential kidney donors are thoroughly screened to ensure that they are a match. This helps to prevent complications post-surgery.

What are the factors that make one a transplant candidate?

This differs from hospital to hospital, but generally, the factors that make an individual eligible for a transplant include the following:

  • A life expectancy of at least five years
  • End-stage renal failure
  • The individual is on dialysis
  • Late-stage chronic kidney disease

What factors can disqualify an individual from getting a transplant?

The general factors which could make an individual ineligible for a kidney transplant include the following:

  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Shorter life expectancy of fewer than five years
  • A health condition that makes an individual inoperable
  • Recurring infections

How is a kidney transplant done?

Only one kidney is needed to be healthy, so usually, only one kidney is transplanted during the surgery. The new kidney is placed in another part of the abdomen, the ureter of the transplanted kidney is then attached to the individual’s bladder, and the two original kidneys are left in place. If the transplant is successful, the new kidney takes over the function of blood filtration and urine production. The procedure usually takes 2-4 hours to complete. In some cases, the old kidneys are removed. Some of the factors that can cause this removal include:

  • Infection that can spread to the transplanted kidney
  • Uncontrollable high blood pressure that is caused by the old kidneys
  • Urine reflux into the old kidneys

What happens after the surgery?

After the surgery, the patient usually remains on admission in the hospital for a few days to be properly monitored to ensure that the patient is recovering properly. The transplanted kidney is expected to start functioning immediately, but in some cases, dialysis is done until the kidney starts working. This might take some days or weeks. The patient is also placed on immunosuppressive medication to prevent the body from rejecting the transplanted kidney.

How long does a transplanted kidney last? 

The expected lifespan of a transplanted kidney is 12-15 years, although some will last longer. Some people usually require multiple transplants in the course of their lives. In some cases, an individual can have up to four transplants.

What are the complications that may be encountered in transplant surgery?

complications of Kidney Transplant
Picture courtesy: SlidePlayer

Some of the potential side effects of the transplant surgery include:

What are the advantages of a kidney transplant?

A successful kidney transplant ensures that the individual will have a longer and more stress-free life than he would have had if on dialysis. Also, there would be fewer health complications and a generally better quality of life.

What are the risks and complications of a kidney transplant surgery?

Some of the risks that may arise from a kidney transplant surgery include the following:

  • Temporary loss of kidney function – in some cases, the kidney does not resume function immediately, and the patient would need to be on dialysis for some time.
  • Kidney failure – this may happen after a number of years, and the patient would need to get back on dialysis or get a new kidney transplant surgery done.
  • Organ rejection – the body may reject the kidney after the transplant, and the patient would need immunosuppressive medication to help the body accept the kidneys.
  • Heart attack or stroke – a kidney transplant increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke, especially if the individual has high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

What is the average timeline for a patient to fully recover from a kidney transplant?

The timeline is different for everyone and is also dependent on certain factors. On average, however, it takes about six weeks for an individual to recover from the surgery fully.

What are some of the things to do to aid recovery?

It is crucial to follow the doctor’s advice and instructions. However, some general tips on a hitch-free recovery include:

  • Stay hydrated – a very important aspect of recovery. An individual should ensure that they take about 2 liters of water daily.
  • Avoid unwashed, raw, and undercooked meals – these practices can put an individual at risk of an infection or severe illness.
  • Avoid strenuous activities and physical work – it is important that for at least six weeks post-surgery, an individual avoids strenuous activities like lifting heavy objects, contact sports, or physical work as they might injure the surgery site.
  • Avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice – this is due to the fact they can react with the prescribed immunosuppressive medication.
  • Do not take drugs not specifically prescribed by your doctor – it is important that the individual does not self-medicate during the recovery process, as some medicines can cause kidney dysfunction or even affect the prescribed drugs.

Can an individual have a normal life after a kidney transplant?

The answer is yes. Many people live healthy and fulfilling lives after their kidney transplant surgery. The average 3-5 year survival rate is 90%. This means that 9 out of 10 people that have the transplant surgery will still be alive 3-5 years after the surgery. However, these are estimates, and some people may have different recovery and survival experiences. It is important to consult your healthcare provider to learn more about your recovery.

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