Want basic information about kidneys and kidney disease?
What happens to kidney function when a person becomes a living kidney donor?
When a person donates one kidney, they lose some kidney function. Therefore, we only allow people to donate if both of their kidneys are very healthy, so that they still have plenty of kidney function after donation. After one kidney is removed, the remaining kidney grows, or hypertrophies, over the next few months. As a result, instead of having only half of their original kidney function, living kidney donors usually have about 70-80% of their original kidney function about six months after donating. Therefore, if a donor has a healthy kidney and it grows after the donation surgery, they should have plenty of kidney function to filter all the body’s blood for many years to come.
Kidney Function After Donation
As with everyone else, kidney donors’ kidney function declines over time. Because kidney donors are much healthier than the general population in the United States, they still have lower rates of chronic kidney disease (defined as an eGFR below 60 mL/min/1.73 m2) than the general population despite having one kidney. When chronic kidney disease progresses and kidney function drops even further, people can develop end-stage renal disease (also known as kidney failure). When a person has end-stage renal disease, waste products build up in their blood and they need help clearing them, either from dialysis or a kidney transplant. According to current national data, the lifetime risk of end-stage renal disease (kidney failure) among living donors is 0.9%, compared to 0.14% for health non-donors and 3.3% for the general population.1 This means that the risk of kidney failure increases slightly after kidney donation, but the lifetime risk of kidney failure is still considered “low” by the medical community. Still, we tell all donors to get annual check-ups with their primary care doctor so that any kidney problems can be identified and treated early.
What should I do to keep my kidney(s) healthy?
It is important for all donors to have annual check-ups with a primary care doctor. These visits will involve getting your blood pressure checked and having some routine blood work done. While one kidney can last you a lifetime, you should treat it well. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle after surgery is an important part of being a living kidney donor. This includes eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding weight gain.
1. Muzaale AD, Massie AB, Wang M, et al. Risk of end-stage renal disease following live kidney donation. JAMA. 2014;311(6):579-586.