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What is a Kidney Donation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Kidney donation is a practice in which a functioning kidney is removed from someone and placed into the body of a person experiencing end stage renal failure. The donor kidney will function like a normal kidney once the body has adjusted, allowing the recipient to potentially lead a very healthy, active life. There are two types of kidney donation: cadaver donation, in which the donor kidney is removed from someone who has deceased, and living-donor kidney donation, in which someone gives up a kidney for someone else.

The practice of transplanting organs was believed to be theoretically possible for centuries, but it didn't really take off until the 20th century, when advancements in medical technology made the practice safer and more reliable. As early as 1954, the first living-donor kidney donation took place, illustrating that kidneys could be taken successfully from live donors for transplant. Long term studies seem to suggest that living-donor kidneys also perform better in the long term, with a decreased risk of infections and complications.

The kidneys are vitally necessary for filtering toxins in the body and producing urine to express those toxins. When someone's kidneys fail, substances start to build up in the body, causing a variety of health problems and eventually leading to systemic organ failure, as the body simply becomes overloaded with materials it cannot process. Someone in kidney failure either needs regular dialysis to replace the function of the kidneys, or a new kidney.

Many doctors encourage people to consider living-donor kidney donation. The primary reason for this is that kidneys from living donors perform better, but the use of a living donor also allows people to skip lengthy waiting lists for organs, giving them access to a kidney much earlier.

Family members are often asked to consider living-donor kidney donation, since they are frequently matches for the recipient. If no family member consents or no one is a match, people in need of kidneys can connect with organizations which facilitate living donor kidney donation, or a friend may step forward to offer his or her kidney. The use of kidneys from complete strangers is growing more common, thanks to growing awareness about the need for organs and education about living-donor kidney donation.

In a cadaver kidney donation, the kidney is harvested from a body and rushed into the operating room so that it can be transplanted into the recipient. Typically other organs are harvested as well, such as hearts, lungs, and so forth. In living-donor donations, recipient and donor go into the operating room together, a small incision is made in the donor to remove his or her kidney, and the kidney is transferred to the recipient. After surgery, several weeks of recovery time are needed, but donor and recipient can resume fully active lives, as long as they keep an eye on their diets and urinary output. Many donors say that they notice no difference after they have healed, and many also express positive feelings about the experience.

People who are interested in living-donor kidney donation can contact local hospitals or organ banks to discuss the steps required to register in a donation program. Potential donors are screened for health problems and given preliminary tests so that they can be matched with recipients before being entered in the database as potential donors for people in need of a kidney. Everyone is also encouraged to consider registering as an organ donor so that if they die with usable organs, tissues, and bones, these materials can be transplanted into people who might need them.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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