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Being a living donor

Pros and cons for a living donor

Donating can be selfless and rewarding and studies have shown that living donors live just as long as people who never donated.

However, living kidney donors face some medical, financial, and emotional risks. There is no way to know who will have a specific problem.

Risks and benefits for living donors

Watch this video about the pros and cons for a living donor.

Medical pros

  • General health is as good as the general population
  • If you ever need a transplant, you will have a shorter wait on the UNOS transplant waitlist. People who have been kidney donors get priority.

Medical possible short-term cons

  • Allergic reactions to anesthesia
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Pain
  • Bloating from the air put into your belly for surgery
  • Infection
  • Bulging of stitches (hernia)
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood clots
  • Less than 2% of donors need more surgery from problems such as:
    • Bleeding
    • Blocked bowel
    • Bowel injury
  • Less than 2% of donors need to go back to the hospital because they have:
    • Feeling sick
    • Throwing up
    • Diarrhea (loose stool)
    • Infections
  • Only 3 in 10,000 donors die in surgery.

Medical possible long-term cons

  • Loss of 25-35% of kidney function
  • Long term pain
  • Adhesions (internal scars that connect tissues not usually connected)
  • Scars, usually two small cuts and one longer one
  • Blocked bowel, which may need surgery to correct
  • Protein in urine, which may be a sign of diabetes
  • Kidney problems or a need for a kidney transplant
  • For women, higher chance of high blood pressure or preeclampsia if you become pregnant after donating
  • Hernia
  • People can get certain health problems after donating:
    • About 18% of donors (about 1 in 5) get high blood pressure
    • About 5% (1 in 20) get chronic kidney disease
    • 4% (less than 1 in 20) get diabetes within 5 years of donating

Emotional and social pros

  • Feeling a sense of happiness, reward, satisfaction and relief because most transplant patients have much better health after their transplant
  • Higher self-esteem than you had before donating
  • In most cases, living donors report a better relationship with the transplant patient

Emotional and social possible short-term cons

  • Worrying about the surgery before it happens
  • Stress from recovery

Emotional and social possible long-term cons

  • Sadness over loss of kidney
  • Anger if the transplant patient’s body rejects the donated kidney
  • Feelings of guilt or regret
  • Your mood may depend on your relationship with the transplant patient and what happens to them post-donation, such as if their body rejects the kidney or the transplant works well

Financial possible short-term cons

  • Costs of travel to and from transplant center and hospital for testing and surgery, lodging, and child care if needed
  • Money lost from time out of work for testing, surgery, and recovery

Financial possible long-term cons

  • It may be harder to get life, disability, or health insurance after the surgery because insurance companies might charge you a more expensive plan or higher monthly premiums
  • Trouble getting future jobs in military service, law enforcement, aviation, and fire departments

Leaders in transplant excellence

UNOS works with leading educational partners to provide accurate, trustworthy health information. Our educational partners include:

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Duke University School of Medicine
Emory University
Johns Hopkins University
Mount Sinai Hospital
Northwestern University
Temple University
University of California, Los Angeles

Special thanks to our corporate sponsor for supporting excellence in transplant education:
Sanofi

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