The Benefits and Risks of Living Kidney Donation

Daniel Marcus';

By Daniel Marcus

Posted on July 19th, 2021 in News, Myths & Tips

Over 6,000 living kidney donations occur in the United States annually, a number that is considerably larger than it was several years ago, giving hope to numerous people with irreversible kidney damage.

Unlike deceased kidney donation, living kidney donation entails the organ being harvested from a person who is alive and willing to give it to another individual who needs it.

Because the human body can function without any problem only with one kidney that is working properly, more and more people take into consideration donating one of their kidneys.

People who desperately need a kidney transplant are those who struggle with advanced renal disease. This serious health problem takes a heavy toll on the quality of life of the patient, as they have to regularly undergo dialysis, a medical procedure whose purpose is to remove waste products and excess fluid from their blood. To understand the severity of advanced renal disease, you should know that people who suffer from it usually undergo dialysis 3 times a week, and the entire process takes approximately 4 hours to complete every time they go to the clinic.

While most living kidney donors are family members, relatives, or friends of the patients, in some cases, strangers choose to donate one of their kidneys to a person who needs it. This trend is becoming more and more prevalent, as, by virtue of novel medication, a genetic match between the donor and the recipient is no longer necessary. When the kidney comes from a stranger, this is known as anonymous or non-direct donation.

Who Can Donate a Kidney?

There are multiple requirements you must meet if you want to become a living kidney donor. Firstly, your kidney function must be normal, and you must be 18 or older. It is worthy of note that there are also a series of medical conditions that prevent you from donating a kidney, including:

  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • HIV
  • acute infections
  • hepatitis

Last but not least, you must be in good mental health, and you must not struggle with a mental health condition that requires you to take medication. Even if your mental health is good, it is still highly recommended that you talk to a therapist or psychiatrist before the surgery, as donating a kidney can be a very emotional process, and you must have the necessary coping mechanisms that will help you navigate it.

What Are the Benefits of Living Kidney Donation?

Living kidney donations usually have considerably more advantages than deceased kidney donations. If the kidney comes from a family member, the risk of rejection is lower because of the genetic match. Furthermore, living kidney donations have the following benefits for the recipients:

  • because the kidney stays out of the body for a short period of time, it will usually function immediately in the body of the recipient, as opposed to the kidney harvested from a deceased person, which may take a while until it becomes functional
  • the potential donor can undergo testing before the actual donation to find the recipient whom they are most compatible with
  • the kidney transplant can be performed at a convenient time for both the donor and the recipient

As for the donor, perhaps the most notable benefit is knowing that they tremendously increased the lifespan of the recipient, as people who receive a kidney from a living donor will live 15 to 20 years more than those who do not undergo a kidney transplant. Moreover, the psychological health of the donor may improve to a great extent following the surgery, as they will be very glad to have made this amazing act of kindness.

The Risks of Living Kidney Donation

With the advent of innovative medical technology, the rate of success of kidney transplantation is very high nowadays, and it continues to increase. Nevertheless, in some cases, the kidney the patient receives may be lost due to rejection, surgical complications, or the kidney disease they have. The death rate for living kidney donors is very low, namely between 0.03% and 0.06%, which makes the procedure a safe one. Regarding the risks of the surgery that living kidney donors have to undergo, which is similar to any other surgical procedure, they include the following:

  • pneumonia, especially if the donor is a smoker
  • blood clots in the lower leg or lungs
  • hernia following surgery
  • infection of the incision
  • the need for blood transfusion due to bleeding
  • injury to nearby organs during surgery
  • allergic reaction to the anesthetic
  • intestinal obstruction
  • testicular swelling and discomfort

Nonetheless, if you intend to become a kidney donor, you should know that these health complications are rare, as the vast majority of surgeries for harvesting a kidney are successful, and people recover within a normal period of time afterward. If you are worried about your risk of coming to struggle with kidney failure, you should also know that living kidney donors have a risk of only 1% of developing this health problem, whereas the risk of the general population is 3%.

Additional Facts About Living Kidney Donation

The following is a list of interesting facts about living kidney donation that may offer you the insight you need if you are considering becoming a donor:

  • kidney donation is the most common living organ donation
  • living kidney donation is the most viable option for people who need a kidney
  • before the surgery, you will undergo a thorough medical examination and a series of tests such as blood tests, urine tests, imaging exams, and cancer screenings to ensure that you are in good health and shielded from any potential complications
  • your hospital stay will be short, and you will be able to return to your normal life relatively fast
  • contrary to popular belief, if you are a woman, you can still get pregnant if you donate a kidney, but you will have to wait one year after the surgery before trying to have a baby
  • you do not have to live in the same place as the recipient if you want to donate a kidney

Donating a kidney is undoubtedly a great act of kindness and, if you have been thinking about it, we strongly encourage you to go through with your decision, whether it is for someone close to you or for a stranger. As you found out from this article, the risks are minimal for you as a donor, whereas the benefits are amazing for the recipient.