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What Does A Kidney Transplant Involve?

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 21 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Kidney Transplant Kidney Rejection

A kidney transplant is the procedure by which a healthy kidney is transplanted from one person to another with a view to it being able to carry out the functions of the recipient’s failed kidneys so that they no longer need to be on dialysis.

The Operation

When a matching kidney becomes available, it’s important that the recipient can get to the hospital quite quickly and that they are in good general health as the time a kidney can be kept for transplant is relatively short so it’s possible a hospital will contact several potential recipients when a new kidney which matches becomes available.

Upon arrival at the hospital, the recipient will need to give one final blood sample to check that there’s a match. This ‘crossmatch’ can take several hours to analyse and complete and during this period, the patient will undergo a physical examination and may also be asked to dialyse.

Once the results of the crossmatch confirm that the new kidney will be compatible, the operation can go ahead. It will usually take around 2 to 3 hours to complete under general anaesthetic and involves an incision into the pelvic area and then the blood vessels from the new kidney are attached to the blood vessels in the leg and the urethra is attached to the bladder.

After The Operation

The patient will wake up to find a catheter which has been inserted into the bladder to make sure it drains correctly after surgery and so that their urine output can be monitored. The new kidney may start working straight away or it could take several days or even weeks before starting to function so the patient may still need to go on dialysis in the short term after the operation. However, the average hospital stay for a kidney transplant is usually around 5 days.


As with any kind of transplant, there are always possible risks from both infection and rejection and the surgeon will need to discuss the various drugs that the patient will need to take following the operation to counteract both infection and rejection.

Even if the patient’s body starts to reject the new kidney, some rejections can be treated and reversed and sometimes it’s necessary to carry out a biopsy on the new kidney so that the surgeon can determine what might have triggered the rejection so that they can administer the correct treatment.

If a rejection is going to occur, the greatest risk is usually within the first few months after the operation and should it happen, the patient will normally be asked to take higher doses of medications to prevent rejection. However, rejections do occur several years later which is why the patient will be required to attend hospital checkups for some time after their operation.

In some cases, the new kidney might not work no matter what preventative measures the surgeon has taken to avoid this which will then mean the patient has to go back on dialysis until a new match can be found.

In addition to making sure that they take the correct medication, kidney transplant patients are more susceptible to having high blood pressure so a healthy diet and exercise will also play a key part in determining their quality of life after the transplant and the surgeon will be able to provide the necessary advice about these issues.

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