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6 Things You Should Know About Kidney Transplantation

According to the declaration of renal experts from European Renal Association -- European Dialysis and Transplant Association and American Society of Nephrology, chronic kidney diseases affects more than 850 million people worldwide as of 2018. This is twice the number of diabetics (422 million) and more than 20 times the number of people with cancer (42 million). 10 percent of men and nearly 12 percent of women around the world have kidney disease, and as much as 10.5 million people need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Kidney transplantation is performed by replacing a healthy kidney inside the body when kidney failure occurs, and kidneys become unable to respond to dialysis.

In this article, we are going to focus on the most important facts of kidney transplant procedure which is a lifesaving treatment, including the causes of kidney failure, the recovery process of kidney transplantation, its risks and finally its cost.

What is Kidney Transplant?

Kidney transplantation is a surgical procedure aiming to transfer a healthy kidney from one person into the body of a person who has end-stage kidney failure. The main job of the kidneys is to filter waste products from the blood. If the kidneys lose their function and are not able to work properly, waste products can accumulate, life-threateningly. This loss of kidney function is the most common reason for being in need of a kidney transplant. People who need it but don't have an eligible living donor will have to wait until a suitable deceased donor kidney becomes available. It is called the waiting list.

There are advantages and disadvantages to kidney transplantation, although pros are relatively more. A kidney transplant can free you from a lifetime dependence on a dialysis machine and the rigid rules and schedule that goes with it. This can let you live a more active life. However, kidney transplantation is not appropriate for everyone. For example, people with active infections and who are severely overweight are not eligible for this operation. After the transplant, you should take immune-suppressing medications to keep your immune system away from attacking the new organ.

READ: Kidney Failure and Kidney Diseases

What Causes Kidney Failure?

When is kidney transplantation needed? Kidney transplantation is needed when kidney failure, also called renal failure, occurs and your kidneys don’t function properly enough and become unable to filter waste from your blood sufficiently.

Acute Kidney Injury (AKI is also another type of kidney failure that leads kidneys to dysfunction by causing an excessive build-up of waste and toxins in your blood. When your kidneys stop working suddenly, over usually two days or less, it is called acute kidney injury (AKI).

Chronic kidney disease (CKD)—or chronic renal failure (CRF), kidney problems and kidney failure may occur due to:

  • Kidney trauma
  • Severe dehydration
  • Infection
  • Diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
  • Heart disease or heart attack
  • Liver disease or liver failure
  • Taking antibiotics, cyclosporine, and chemotherapy
  • Cysts in the kidneys
  • Severe physical injury or burns
  • Polycystic kidney disease (PKD)
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Misuse of some pain killers and legal and illegal drugs

Kidney Failure Symptoms

Symptoms of kidney failure may vary from person to person depending on the severity of the condition. Some patients with kidney failure may have several symptoms of kidney disease, and some may have barely one. Possible signs of kidney failure include:

  • Persistent nausea
  • Coma
  • Kidney pain
  • Swelling in the hand, legs, ankles, and foot
  • Severe drowsiness and fatigue
  • Confusion or depression
  • Pale skin color (related to low level of iron)
  • A reduced amount of urine
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coffee-colored urine

Kidney Transplant Complications and Risks

The procedure of kidney transplantation has a relatively high survival rate and carries fewer risks and complications that are seen rarely. Complications of kidney transplant surgery include:

  • Allergic reactions to general anesthesia
  • Kidney infection
  • Kidney rejection
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Leaking from the ureter that links the kidney to the bladder
  • An infection that may be transmitted through the donated kidney
  • Failure of the donated kidney
  • A heart attack
  • A stroke
READ: Cross-Kidney Transplant – What is it?

Kidney Transplant Recovery

Kidney transplantation surgery is performed under general anesthesia. The operation usually takes between 2 to 4 hours. This operation is a type of heterotopic transplant which means the kidney is placed in a different location than the existing kidneys. For example, liver and heart transplants are orthotopic transplants, in which the surgeon removes the diseased organ and places the transplanted organ in the same location. On the other hand, in kidney transplant, the kidney is placed anterior part of the lower abdomen, in the pelvis. Generally, the original kidneys are not removed unless they are causing severe problems such as uncontrollable high blood pressure, infections, or are greatly enlarged. Recovery period in the hospital after the operation usually takes 3-7 days. The total recovery time of kidney transplantation surgery generally takes up to 3 to 8 weeks. Soreness and pain around the incision site relieve gradually and may take 2 weeks. You can return to work and other routine activities within 3 to 6 weeks after your operation.

You have to be careful about kidney transplant aftercare. You shouldn’t lift heavy objects and drive until the wound and scar are completely healed (about 6 weeks). You will need to follow frequent check-ups.

To prevent kidney rejection, you will need to take certain medications called immunosuppressants (anti-rejection medications) after your kidney transplant process is done. These medications help prevent kidney rejection by keeping your immune system from attacking and rejecting your newly transplanted kidney. Most immunosuppressants are strong drugs and have side effects. For some of them, levels in the blood are to be tracked frequently while using.

Kidney Transplant Cost

The cost of kidney transplant may vary from patient to patient depending on insurance coverage, the type of transplant and the location of the kidney transplant center. Most health insurance agencies cover kidney transplant cost. However, make sure to talk to your insurance agency about the coverage and limitations of your health policy. Whether the cost is covered or not, kidney transplantation is still a costly procedure especially in Europe and in the USA as the overall cost of kidney transplant in those regions ranges between $100,000 and $400,000.

However, there are some countries to have cheap kidney transplantation such as Turkey, Poland, Romania, and India. For example, kidney transplant cost in India is around $15,000 and the kidney transplant cost Turkey is around $30,000. Besides, kidney transplant donors are plenty, and kidney transplant waiting lists are relatively short in these countries.

READ: Kidney Transplant Costs Around the World

This content is edited by Flymedi Medical Editors in 2023.


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