Donating a Kidney

Donating a Kidney

Topic Overview

Kidney transplantation is the best way known to save a
person's life after he or she develops
kidney failure. In the past, kidneys were only taken
from living close relatives or from people who had recently died.
Transplants from living donors have a better chance of success than those
from deceased donors. Also, in the United States some people wait more than 5 years for a cadaver kidney.footnote 1 For this reason, more people are making the
decision to become kidney donors.

Who can become a kidney donor?

A living donor needs to be:

  • In good general health.
  • Free from diseases that can damage the organs, such as diabetes, uncontrolled high blood pressure, or cancer.
  • At least 18 years old, typically.

What steps should I take to become a kidney donor?

If you decide to become a kidney donor, samples of your blood will be
drawn for testing, including your
blood type and other genetic information (which may include HLA type) to
see how well you match the recipient. These tests may be repeated before the surgery if you decide to become a donor.

If your blood
tests are good, you will meet with
social workers at the transplant facility to discuss
other obligations. You will be given information, such as how much time you
will need to take off from work and details of surgery and the recovery
process, that will help you make an informed decision. Your meetings with the
social work team will be strictly confidential.

When will I meet with a doctor?

After you have
decided to become a kidney donor and your crossmatch results are known, you
will be evaluated by a doctor, usually a
nephrologist. Your evaluation will begin with a
medical history and physical exam. You will have a series of lab tests to
screen for kidney function, including
chemistry screen,
urinalysis, and
urine tests for protein. You may also have a
CT scan of the kidneys to evaluate your kidneys,
urinary tract, and other structures in your pelvis.

What is involved in kidney transplant surgery?

will be given a
general anesthetic before your surgery. Until
recently, the removal of a kidney required an
8 in. (20.3 cm) to
9 in. (22.9 cm) incision on one
side of the body (flank). Now,
laparoscopy is usually used to remove the donor
kidney. Advantages of laparoscopic kidney removal include less pain, shorter
hospital stays, a more rapid return to normal activities, and a smaller, less
noticeable scar.

What are the risks of becoming a kidney donor?

Removing a kidney from your body involves major surgery. There is a risk of complications from surgery, such as pain, infection, pneumonia, and bleeding.

A person can live with only one healthy kidney.
But doctors are learning that donating a kidney may increase the chance of certain health problems in the years after the donation. More research is being done to better understand the long-term risks.

Donating an organ can affect you and your family. Many emotional issues are involved. There may be costs such as travel expenses and lost wages. And organ donation may affect your insurance coverage.

If you are thinking about donating a kidney, your medical team will help you understand the pros and cons so you can make the decision that's right for you.

What limitations will I have after I have donated a kidney?

Donating a kidney will not cause any limitations in your
normal daily activities. After the recovery from your surgery, you will be able
to resume all of your normal activities, including exercising and participating
in sports.

Donating a kidney doesn't affect a person's fertility. For example, it won't affect a woman's ability to become pregnant or a man's ability to impregnate a woman. But if a woman has donated a kidney, her risk for preeclampsia or high blood pressure during a pregnancy may be higher.

Who pays my hospital costs?

In the United States,
your medical costs will be covered by the recipient's medical insurance. Most
insurance companies cover 100% of the medical costs of a transplant, including
pretransplant evaluations and lab tests. If the recipient does not have medical
insurance, your medical costs will be covered by Medicare.

More information

For more information on becoming a
kidney donor, see:

  • Transweb
  • National Kidney Foundation at
  • American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP) at
  • United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) at



  1. Hart A, et al. (2017). OPTN/SRTR 2015 annual data report: Kidney.
    American Journal of Transplantation, 17(Suppl 1): 21–116. DOI: 10.1111/ajt.14124. Accessed April 26, 2017.

Other Works Consulted

  • Garg AX, et al. (2015). Gestational hypertension and preeclampsia in living kidney donors.
    New England Journal of Medicine, 372(2): 124–133. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1408932. Accessed September 16, 2015.
  • Rudow DL, et al. (2015). Consensus conference on best practices in live kidney donation: Recommendations to optimize education, access, and care.
    American Journal of Transplant, 15(4): 914–22. DOI: 10.1111/ajt.13173. Accessed October 2, 2015.
  • Segev DL, et al. (2010). Perioperative mortality and long-term survival following live kidney donation.
    JAMA, 303(10): 959–966. DOI:10.1001/jama.2010.237. Accessed September 16, 2015.


ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine Specialist Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine

Current as ofFebruary 20, 2018

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