Does a living kidney donor’s quality of life change after donation?
Studies suggest that living kidney donors have a better quality of life than the general population both before and after donation. Compared to the general population of the United States, most donors had higher scores on both physical health and mental health.1, 2 Even many years after donation, the majority of donors have excellent quality of life (higher than the national average) and this does not change significantly over time.
Do any donors regret donating?
In one study, 4% of donors were dissatisfied or regretted donating. Usually, these donors had given a kidney to a more distant relative, or their recipient had died within one year of receiving the kidney transplant. Some of these donors reported finding the experience of donating stressful (4%) or very stressful (8%). These donors were usually female and/or had complications after surgery. Another study found that people who had a longer recovery time, felt that their pain after surgery was not managed well, or had their donated kidney fail were more likely to report lower quality of life after donating.4
These studies also showed that donors who felt the least amount of stress after donating were those who said they were well-informed and knew what to expect before and after donation and those who felt they had a good support network.3, 4 It is important that you feel confident in your knowledge about living kidney donation evaluation, surgery, recovery, and long-term effects. If you have any questions, do research and talk to your transplant team and other health care providers until you are satisfied.
Quality of Life
Do people experience any mental health problems after donating?
There are reports of donors who feel depressed or even commit suicide after donating. While low mood is uncommon and suicide is exceedingly rare, both have happened. People who experience depression or other psychiatric changes after they donate may have a family history of mood disorders. Donor depression also generally occurs after the recipient does not do well after surgery, including dying not long after the transplant.
If you experience any changes in your mood that worry you or affect your everyday life, please contact your transplant center or your primary care doctor.
Are there benefits from donating?
- Receiving an extensive medical workup that may help identify unknown medical problems
- Receiving a boost in self-esteem after donating
- Experiencing an increased sense of well-being
- Developing an improved relationship with the donor. In one study, 75% of donors reported developing an improved their relationship with the recipient after the transplant.
Would people donate again?
Overall, about 95% of donors rated their overall donor experience as good or excellent.5 When asked if they would make the decision to donate again, knowing what they know now, 94% said they would definitely donate again. 1.2% said they would probably not donate again. These donors usually had a medical complication or reported having an emotionally difficult experience, such as their recipient doing poorly after the transplant.
1. Ibrahim HN, Foley R, Tan L, et al. Long-Term Consequences of Kidney Donation. New England Journal of Medicine. 2009;360(5):459-469.
2. Gross CR, Messersmith EE, Hong BA, Jowsey SG, Jacobs C, Gillespie BW. Health-related quality of life in kidney donors from the last five decades: results from the RELIVE study. Am J Transplant. 2013;13.
3. Johnson EM AJ, Jacobs C, Suh G, Humar A, Suhr B, Kerr SR, Matas AJ. Long-Term Follow-Up of Living Kidney Donors: Quality of Life After Donation. Transplantation. 1999;65(5):717-721.
4. Meyer K, Wahl AK, Bjørk IT, Wisløff T, Hartmann A, Andersen MH. Long-term, self-reported health outcomes in kidney donors. BMC Nephrology. 2016;17(1):1-10.
5. Jacobs CL, Gross CR, Messersmith EE, et al. Emotional and Financial Experiences of Kidney Donors over the Past 50 Years: The RELIVE Study. Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. 2015;10(12):2221-2231.