A kidney transplant is the transfer of a healthy kidney from one person into the body of a person who has little or no kidney function.
The main role of the kidneys is to filter waste products from the blood and convert them to urine. If the kidneys lose this ability, waste products can build up, which is potentially life-threatening.
This loss of kidney function, known as end-stage chronic kidney disease or kidney failure, is the most common reason for needing a kidney transplant.
It's possible to partially replicate the functions of the kidney using a blood filtering procedure known as dialysis. However, this can be inconvenient and time-consuming, so a kidney transplant is the treatment of choice for kidney failure whenever possible.
Who can have a kidney transplant?
Most people who need a kidney transplant are able to have one, regardless of their age, as long as:
they're well enough to withstand the effects of surgery
the transplant has a relatively good chance of success
the person is willing to comply with the recommended treatments required after the transplant – such as taking immunosuppressant medication and attending regular follow-up appointments
Reasons why it may not be safe or effective to perform a transplant include having an ongoing infection (this will need to be treated first), severe heart disease, cancer that has spread to several places in your body, or AIDS.
Around one in three people with kidney failure is suitable for a transplant.
The transplant procedure
If you receive a kidney from a living donor, this will be a carefully planned operation.
If you're waiting for a deceased donor kidney, the transplant centre will contact you when a suitable kidney becomes available. This can happen at any time of the day or night. Staff at the centre will check you don't have any new medical problems and will ask you to go to the centre, where final checks will be performed to be sure the transplant should go ahead.
You'll then have surgery to insert the new kidney and connect it to your blood vessels and bladder. The new kidney will be placed in the lower part of your abdomen (tummy). Your own kidneys will usually be left in place.
A kidney transplant is a major surgical procedure with a wide range of potential risks. In the short term, these risks include blood clots and infection. Longer-term problems, which include diabetes and an increased risk of infections, are usually related to the medication you need to take to reduce the chance of rejection.
Because of the risk of further problems, people who have had a kidney transplant require regular check-ups for the rest of their life.
Living with a kidney transplant
Having a healthy lifestyle after a kidney transplant goes a long way to minimise the risk of complications.
Therefore, it's recommended that you :
stop smoking if you smoke
Eat a healthy diet
lose weight if you are overweight or obese
take steps to reduce your risk of developing infections