What to expect when you donate your kidney

Donating a kidney is no small thing. Even so, there is no need of overhauling your lifestyle after surgery. “You need to be in good health in order to donate. So, a lot of the steps you took to get healthy are the same steps that will help you stay that way,” says Susan Hou, MD, in addition to serving as a transplant nephrologist at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, she was also a donor of her kidney in 2002 to a stranger. “Very little changed for me afterward,” Hou says. “It was a great experience.”

Below are a few things that you need to know after you’ve donated a kidney.

  • Recovery period and going back to old routine:

The length of stay in the hospital usually depends on the individual donor’s rate of recovery and procedure type performed (traditional vs laparoscopic kidney removal) although the usual stay is 4 to 6 days. Ask the transplant center for their estimate of your particular recovery time as the rate of recovery may differ greatly among individuals.

After leaving the hospital, the donor will typically feel itching, tenderness and some pain as the incision continues to heal. Heavy lifting should be avoided for about six weeks following surgery. It is also recommended that donors avoid contact sports which can cause injury the remaining kidney. Refer to the transplant staff and discuss the best ways to return as quickly as possible to being physically fit.

  • Living life after donation:

Life is normal with only one kidney. Donor can lead a normal life after the surgery as long as the evaluation is done clearly and thoroughly for donation. The single normal kidney will increase in size to compensate for the loss of the donated kidney after removing the kidney.

Physical exercise is a good way to be healthy. However, it’s necessary for someone with only one kidney to be careful and protect it from injury. Some doctors recommend avoiding contact sports like boxing, football, soccer, hockey, wrestling and martial arts. Kidney injury during sports can be avoided by wearing protective gear such as padded vests under clothing but one has to keep in mind that this only reduces the risk.

  • Dietary restrictions:

You should be able to go back to a healthy and regular lifestyle after donation. There will probably not be any specific dietary restrictions if you are in good health. Refer to your transplant team about your specific dietary needs.

  • Long-term risks of donation:

There will be a permanent scar from the donor operation, the size and location depend on the operation type. Some donors have reported long-term problems with nerve damage, pain, hernia or intestinal obstruction. These risks are rare, but there are currently no national statistics on the frequency of these problems.

In addition, people with one kidney may be at a greater risk of:

  • Proteinuria
  • High blood pressure
  • Reduced kidney function

Refer to your transplant team and discuss these risks, and ask for center-specific statistics related to these problems.

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