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A kidney transplant is a medical procedure in which a kidney is taken from a donor and surgically implanted in a recipient. Kidney transplants are used to replace failing or failed kidneys. Donor kidneys can be taken from people who have died, or from living donors who agree to give up a kidney for the good of the patient.
Most commonly, a kidney transplant is viewed as a treatment option for someone who has kidneys which are irreversibly damaged. In many cases, the patient may be undergoing dialysis on a regular basis to compensate for the fact that the kidneys are not working. Dialysis can be expensive, time-consuming, and unpleasant, making a kidney transplant an appealing alternative. Life expectancy with a donor kidney is also longer than life expectancy on dialysis, and in some instances, the patients may make a remarkable recovery, as in the case of athletes who resume professional sports after kidney transplant.
When it becomes clear that a patient needs a kidney transplant, he or she is placed on a list of people waiting for organs. This list can be bypassed with a living kidney donation or a directed donation from someone who has died. The patient will also need to take immunosuppressive drugs to prepare for transplant, so that the body will not attack the donor kidney, and extensive medical testing is used to identify the patient's blood type, ensuring that a matching donor can be found.
In the kidney transplant procedure, the non-functional kidneys are left in place and the new kidney is transplanted somewhere else in the abdominal cavity and connected to the veins and arteries which previously supplied the failing kidneys. A strong donor kidney will start to function almost immediately, with the patient staying in the hospital for seven to 10 days so that doctors can keep an eye on recovery. The biggest risks of kidney transplant are rejection and infection, and surgical complications can also be an issue, especially in patients who were not in peak health at the time of transplant.
After transplant, the patient must continue to take medications to prevent rejection. This makes the recipient more prone to infection, because these medications keep the immune system at bay. Patients also need to keep an eye on urine output, to make sure that the donor kidney is functioning well, and they are encouraged to eat a healthy diet and exercise to promote kidney health.