Kidney transplants

What is the kidney and what does it do?

The kidney is a bean-shaped organ about the size of a fist. Most people have two kidneys which are situated just above the waist at the back. The main function of the kidney is to clean the blood of harmful waste and balance the amount of salt and water in the body. The kidney also makes Vitamin D (to keep your bones strong) and helps to make blood.

What happens when the kidneys fail?

Kidney failure can cause waste to build up in the blood and the body may retain fluid. Patients with kidney failure can feel tired, breathless, have swollen ankles and lose their appetite. When the kidney function is very low, patients will require dialysis or a transplant to take over the function of their failing kidneys.

Does everyone with kidney failure get a transplant?

No. Not all patients will benefit from having a kidney transplant and only half of all patients with kidney failure are suitable to have a transplant. Each kidney patient is assessed individually to see if transplantation is the best option for them and if they are fit enough to have a transplant. If you are not sure, ask your kidney doctor or specialist nurse to explain this further. You can also call our pre-transplant assessment nurse on 020 7794 0500 x 34084 to discuss transplantation and they may make an appointment for you in the pre-transplant assessment clinic.

What are the benefits of kidney transplantation?

A successful kidney transplant offers the chance to lead a nearly normal life without the need for dialysis. Most patients feel stronger and have more energy after a transplant. In addition, most patients do not need to restrict their fluid intake or the type of food they eat. A good working transplant can help patients with kidney failure live longer when compared to staying on dialysis.

What are the disadvantages of kidney transplantation?

Kidney transplantation requires a major operation and patients have to be fit enough to have a transplant. There are risks involved with receiving a transplant and a number of complications can occur from the operation. Not all kidney transplants work and some transplants can have complications with the blood vessels and draining tube of the kidney. A lot of medication is required after the transplant and patients can suffer from side effects. The medication can weaken the immune system and patients are at increased risk of infection and some cancers. Despite all the tablets, some kidneys will be rejected and may require stronger medication to stop the rejection. 

Find out more:

The kidney transplant team at the Royal Free Hospital includes specialist transplant nurses, the surgical transplant team, kidney transplant physicians and the tissue typing team. For more information on our team, click on the 'the team' tab of the Kidney service page.

Visit the NHS blood and transplant website to read their FAQs about kidney donation.