What happens during a kidney transplant 

When a suitable donor kidney is found, the transplant centre will contact you. Staff at the centre will check you don't have any new medical problems and then ask you to go to the centre.

When you hear from the transplant centre:

  • don't eat or drink anything
  • take all current medicines with you
  • take a bag of clothes and essential items for your hospital stay

When you arrive at the transplant centre, you'll be quickly assessed. Some of the tests you had at your initial assessment may be repeated to ensure no new medical conditions have developed. Tests will also be done to ensure the donor kidney is suitable for you.

The transplant procedure must be carried out as quickly as possible for the transplant to have the best chance of success. After the medical team has confirmed the kidney is in good condition and is suitable, you'll be given the general anaesthetic and taken to the operating theatre.

The operation

The kidney transplant procedure involves three main stages:

  • First, an incision (cut) is made in your lower abdomen (tummy), through which the donated kidney is put into place. Your own kidneys will usually be left where they are, unless they're causing problems such as pain or infection.
  • Second, nearby blood vessels are attached to the blood vessels of the donated kidney. This is to provide the donated kidney with the blood supply it needs to function properly.
  • Finally, the ureter (the tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder) of the donated kidney is connected to your bladder.

A small plastic tube called a stent may be inserted into the ureter to help ensure a good flow of urine initially. This will usually be removed about 6 to 12 weeks later during a minor procedure called a cystoscopy.

When the kidney is properly in place, the incision in your abdomen will be closed with surgical staples, stitches or surgical glue.

Although the procedure may sound relatively straightforward, it's very demanding and complex surgery that usually takes around three hours to complete.

After the operation

Once you've recovered from the effects of the anaesthetic, it's likely you will feel some pain at the site of the incision. Painkillers will be provided, if necessary.

After the operation, you'll immediately begin treatment with medication designed to prevent your immune system from rejecting your new kidney. See living with a kidney transplant for more information on this.

Most transplanted kidneys will start working immediately, particularly if they come from a living donor, although sometimes they may take a few days or weeks to work properly. If this is the case, you'll need to have dialysis during this time.

Most people can leave hospital in about a week, but you'll need to attend frequent appointments at the transplant centre, so your kidney function can be assessed and tests can be carried out to check how well your medications are working.

For the first few weeks after surgery, you may need to have two to three appointments a week. However, over time, your appointments will become less frequent. After a year, as long as you do not have any serious problems, you should only have to attend the centre once every few months.

After kidney surgery, you should be able to return to work and normal activities within a few months, provided you make good progress.

Page last reviewed: 14/10/2015

Next review due: 14/10/2017