How a kidney transplant is performed 

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 will ask you to go to the centre.

When you hear from the transplant centre:

  • do not 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 will be quickly assessed. Some of the tests you had at your initial assessment may be repeated to ensure no new medical conditions have developed. A laboratory test will be done to ensure the 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 will be given the general anaesthetic.

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 can usually be left where they are, unless they are causing a problem such as pain or infection.
  • Second, blood vessels from your lower abdomen are attached to the blood vessels of the donated kidney. This is to provide the donated kidney with the blood supply that 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. This will usually be removed about six to 10 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 is demanding and complex surgery that usually takes around three hours to complete.

After the operation

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

After the operation, you will immediately begin treatment with medication designed to prevent your immune system from rejecting your new kidney. These types of medication are known as immunosuppressants. See living with a kidney donation for more information about this.

If you have a kidney from a living donor, it will usually start working straightaway. In around seven out of 10 people who have a kidney transplant from a deceased donor, the new kidney begins working immediately after surgery. However, transplanted kidneys sometimes take up to six weeks to start working properly. If this is the case, you will need to have dialysis during this time.

Most people can leave hospital after about seven to 10 days, but you will need to attend frequent appointments at the transplant centre so your kidney function can be assessed and so tests can be carried out to check how well your immunosuppressants 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 two or three months.

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

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Page last reviewed: 31/01/2014

Next review due: 31/01/2016