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What to Know About Your Kidney Transplant

What to Know About Your Kidney Transplant

This article is for people who may have, or had, a kidney transplant and their care partners, or anyone who wants to learn more about it. The goal of this activity is to help people talk to and work with their doctor about what may happen before and after a kidney transplant.

You will learn about:

  • What end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) is and its treatment

  • What to consider and know before a kidney transplant

  • Your life after transplant and making a treatment plan

  • Questions to ask your doctor and healthcare team

Test Your Knowledge

Your Kidneys Have an Important Job to Do

Your kidneys' main job is to filter and clean your blood, which removes waste products and helps you keep the right amounts of salt, fluid, and minerals.

All of your blood passes through your kidneys several times a day. Waste and extra fluid get turned into urine that your body gets rid of when you urinate, or pee.

When your kidneys can't do their job properly, waste products and extra fluid can build up in your body and lead to problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and even death.

What ESKD Means

End-stage kidney disease (ESKD) -- also called end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or kidney failure -- is when your kidneys can't work well enough on their own to get the job done or stop working altogether.

If ESKD happens, you'll need treatment that can include:

  • Regular dialysis to mechanically filter and clean your blood

  • A kidney transplant that surgically replaces a damaged kidney with a healthy one

  • Joining a clinical trial

  • Supportive care to help improve your quality of life

If you're living with ESKD, talk to your doctor and healthcare team about all your options to see which treatment may be for you.

When Considering a Kidney Transplant

If a kidney transplant is being considered, your doctor and healthcare team will do a full evaluation to see if you may be a good candidate. People of all ages may be eligible -- and you don't need to be on dialysis first -- but you must be healthy enough to have the surgery and be free from cancer and any infections.

Many kidney transplants are successful and can last for many years, but how long will vary from person to person. You may also need more than 1 kidney transplant during your lifetime.

Kidney Donation

A kidney can come from a living donor or a deceased donor (someone who has died and donated a healthy kidney).

Only 1 healthy kidney is needed to replace 2 damaged ones. Living donors can typically lead normal lives after surgery, but a kidney transplant is major surgery. So both you and the donor should talk to your doctor to learn about any risks.

If a living donor who's a good match isn't found, you may be placed on a transplant waiting list to get a kidney from a deceased donor. Some people get a match in a few months, but others may end up waiting years.

Before Your Transplant

Talk to your doctor and healthcare team about preparing for your transplant. They may ask you to take certain steps to increase your chances of success, such as losing weight or quitting smoking.

Your life after transplant will be different than before, so there may be things you can do in advance to prepare, such as:

  • Talking to your doctor and healthcare team about your goals and expectations for recovery

  • Learning about any medicines and lifestyle changes you may need

  • Joining a support group

  • Finding rehabilitation (rehab) services

Be sure to learn as much as you can beforehand and ask plenty of questions. Keeping a journal or diary can help you keep track.

Making a Treatment Plan for After Transplant

You'll work with your doctor and healthcare team to make a treatment plan for after your transplant. This will include taking anti-rejection medicines called immunosuppressants.

Immunosuppressants help keep your immune system -- your body's natural defense system -- less active so it doesn't see your new kidney as an outside invader, causing your body to reject it. Be sure to take these medicines as directed and for as long as directed -- you'll need to take them as long as your new kidney is working.

Your treatment plan may include other medicines as well, such as those to help protect you from infections.

Life After Transplant

Be sure to talk to your doctor and healthcare team ahead of time about what you can expect after your transplant.

Other parts of your treatment plan may include:

  • Ways to manage side effects. All medicines may have side effects so be sure to ask about which ones may happen with the medicines you're taking and how to manage them

  • A diet plan that includes what you should or shouldn't eat and drink. Talk to your dietitian or nutritionist about what may be right for you

  • An exercise routine. Check in with your doctor and healthcare team before starting an exercise program or changing your physical activities

  • An appointment schedule for regular checkups

Shawna talks about her personal experiences after her kidney transplant.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Questions you can ask your doctor and healthcare team about kidney transplant can include:

  • What can I do in advance to prepare?

  • Are there any lifestyle changes I should make?

  • What medicines will I need to take, what are their side effects, and how can we manage them?

  • What type of diet and exercise plan should I follow?

  • Is there a clinical trial I can join?

  • What should I do if I start to feel stressed or depressed?

  • Is there a support group I can join?

  • Where can I find more information and resources?

Test Your Knowledge


You have successfully completed the program What to Know About Your Kidney Transplant.

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

What Is Kidney Failure?

Eating Right With Kidney Failure

Choosing a Treatment for Kidney Failure

Kidney Transplant

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Joy P. Marko, MS, APN-c, CCMEP

Senior Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC.

Disclosure: Joy P Marko, has no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Director, Content Development, Medscape, LLC.

Disclosure: Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has no relevant financial relationships.


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