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You’re Never Too Old

You must be at least 18 to give a kidney. There's no maximum age, but your doctor will want to make sure you’re spry enough to handle the surgery. You don’t have to be an Olympian for your kidney to pass the test. Only a handful of health conditions will keep you off the operating table.

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It's Not for Everyone

If you have any kind of kidney disease, it isn’t a good idea for you to give a kidney to others. Your doctor will also sideline you from surgery if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, HIV, hepatitis, acute infections, or a mental health condition that requires treatment.

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You Don’t Have to Be a Perfect Match

Don’t worry that your kidney won’t be identical to the one it replaces. It’s best to have a matching or compatible blood type. But some transplant centers can make it work if you don’t. Getting a donor kidney improves the health of someone on dialysis so much that doctors say a “good enough” match is far better than no match at all.

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Giving Is Free

You don’t have to pony up a cent to donate. The recipient’s insurance company covers most of your medical costs. But it may not cover all of your follow-up visits or treatments for any complications you might have. You’ll also need to plan for lost wages and travel costs.

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Kidneys From a Living Donor Work Faster

If you need a kidney, it can come from someone who’s alive or from someone who’s recently died (your doctor will call this a cadaver). Kidneys from a living donor have the edge. They’re ready to get to work right away. Other kidneys may take some time to kick into gear. And you might need to stay on dialysis for a few days after surgery if you get one. 

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You’ll Heal Quickly

After you give a kidney, your hospital stay could be as short as 3 days or as long as a week. You should be fully recovered 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. If you’re getting a kidney, you might stay as long as 10 days. You may also spend the first day or two in the ICU as your body adjusts to the donor organ. You should feel almost back to normal in 6 to 8 weeks.

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No Huge Scars

Today, kidney surgery is less intense than ever, thanks to new technology. Instead of a traditional open surgery, your doctor may give you the go-ahead for laparoscopic surgery -- they may call this a minimally invasive procedure. They’ll make a small cut and then use a wand with a video camera attached to it to remove your kidney. You may not qualify if you’ve had previous surgeries or have a kidney in an abnormal position.

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You Can Choose Who Gets Your Kidney

There are two ways to give a kidney:

  • Directed donation: You decide who gets it -- as long as your kidney is a match for them.
  • Nondirected donation: A team of medical experts chooses your kidney’s new owner based on need and how well you match.

Directed donations are more common.

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Donor Kidneys Need Protection

Your body is set up to attack anything it doesn’t recognize. That new kidney is a stranger to your body. You’ll need to take drugs your doctor will refer to as immunosuppressants. They make sure your immune system doesn’t reject the donated kidney. You’ll take them as long as you have that kidney.

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You Can Be Healthy With One Kidney

Giving it away won’t take years off your life. You may have some issues right after surgery, like a short-term spike in your blood pressure. And if you have kidney problems in the future, you won’t have a backup in place. Some donors may be more likely to get high blood pressure, kidney disease, and other health problems, but studies show that most have as good or better health than most people over the rest of their lives.

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The Gift That Keeps on Giving

A new-to-you kidney won’t last forever, but it can give you good health for many years. How long do they last? About 10 years for a kidney from a deceased donor and 15 years if it’s from someone who’s alive. You can also take simple steps to keep your donor kidney healthy. Eat well, get regular exercise, take your anti-rejection medications, and keep health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure under control.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 11/19/2020 Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on November 19, 2020

United Network for Organ Sharing: “Living Donation.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Comprehensive Transplant Center: Blood Compatibility,” “What Kidney Donors Need to Know: Before, During and After Donating a Kidney.”

American Kidney Fund: “Kidney Transplant.”

National Kidney Foundation: “Getting Started: General Information on Living Donation,” “Care After Kidney Transplant,” “The Surgery,” “Who Pays for Living Donation?”

The University of Kansas Hospital: “Kidney: Recovery and Follow-Up.”

Mayo Clinic: “Nephrectomy (kidney removal).”

Medscape: “Long-term risks for Kidney Donors.”

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: “Kidney Disease and Transplant: Frequently Asked Questions.”

Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on November 19, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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