What Should I Know Before I Donate a Kidney?

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on December 07, 2022
3 min read

Your kidneys are two of your body’s most important organs. They filter waste from about 200 liters of fluid per day in your body. (Almost all of the fluid is reabsorbed into your body. The waste and extra water become urine.) Your kidneys release hormones that control blood pressure. And they help make red blood cells and activate vitamin D.

When they don’t work, you need treatment to stay healthy. Sometimes that means getting a kidney transplant.

If someone you know or love needs a kidney, you might have thought about giving them one of yours. Here are answers to common questions about this big decision.

You can donate a kidney to a family member or friend who needs one. You can also give it to someone you don't know. Doctors call this a “nondirected” donation, in which case you might decide to meet the person you donate to, or choose to stay anonymous. Either way, doctors will give your kidney to the person who needs it most and is the best match.

Your doctor will do some tests to find out for sure. They’ll check your blood and urine, and may also do an ultrasound or take X-rays of your kidneys. You may not be able to donate if you have medical issues like diabetes or high blood pressure.

If your doctor gives you the green light, they’ll schedule you for surgery. You can expect to take 4 to 6 weeks to recover. Be sure to line up someone to help you during that time.

You don't usually have to change your routine or even your diet to get ready for surgery.

Your doctor will prescribe medications to help manage your pain. They’ll also want you to get up and start moving around shortly afterward.

As with any operation, there are possible aftereffects, like pain and infection. When you only have one kidney, there's a greater chance of long-term issues like high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about the possible problems you might face.

After donation, you should be able to live a pretty normal life. You'll have to take pain pills for a short time after surgery. Your remaining kidney will grow bigger to help make up for the one that’s gone. Your doctor may want you to make a few changes in your physical activity. They might tell you to avoid contact sports like football or soccer in order to protect your kidney.

If you want to give your kidney to a friend or family member, talk to the doctor at the transplant center. You'll start taking tests to see if you're a match.

If you want to give a kidney to someone you don't know, contact your nearest transplant center. You can find out if they have a nondirected donor program. If they don't, ask your doctor for a list of centers that have an anonymous donor program. You can also find those programs online.