What is the average life expectancy after a kidney transplant?

For many people, a kidney transplant procedure can be considered as getting another chance at life. There are many benefits of a kidney transplant, such as having more freedom and liberty to have an active lifestyle. But the most important advantage is the increased life expectancy after the kidney transplant in patients suffering from kidney failure


What is a kidney transplant?

A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure in which a healthy kidney from a living or deceased donor is placed into a person whose kidneys are no longer functional.

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs in our body that are located on each side of the spine just below the rib cage. The main function of kidneys is to filter blood and remove the waste products, minerals and other fluid from the blood by producing urine.

When kidney stops functioning properly and loses their filtering ability, it leads to accumulation of waste and harmful levels of fluid in the body. This can lead to increased blood pressure and result in kidney failure, also known as end-stage kidney disease. Kidney failure is considered when the kidneys have lost about 90% of their normal functions.

There are two treatment methods for end-stage kidney disease, namely kidney transplant and dialysis. In dialysis, patients have waste removed from their bloodstream through a machine. Patients on dialysis need to go into a center for treatment 2-3 times a week. Dialysis does not treat or compensate for all the functions of the kidneys while a transplant can.

The important functions of the kidney include:

  • Continuously remove waste products of metabolism
  • excretion of certain drugs from the system
  • Help in maintaining blood pressure
  • Involved in the production of a hormone known as erythropoietin that helps in preventing anemia
  • Conversion of vitamin D from food into an active compound to keep bones healthy. (bone disease is common in patients with kidney failure)
  • Continuously remove excess fluid

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How long can you live after a kidney transplant?

Patients who receive a kidney transplant typically survive longer in comparison to those who stay on dialysis. To answer the question above – it’s safe to say that patients who receive a kidney transplant before starting dialysis, may live 15 to 20 years longer than if they stayed on dialysis, which has a life expectancy of around 5 years.

A living donor kidney functions well for almost 15 to 20 years, while with a deceased donor kidney, life expectancy increases from 8 to 12 years.

Younger adults with kidney problems benefit the most from a kidney transplant procedure, but even people as old as 75 gain around five more years after a transplant surgery than if they had stayed on dialysis.

As the average lifespan of a transplanted kidney is 15 to 20 years on an average, if the kidney stops working, patients can be put on a waitlist for a new one. Patients can have a second or even third kidney transplant but the repeated surgery is more complex. This is because finding a good match every time between a donor and a recipient becomes increasingly challenging.

To avoid this, it is important to take good care of your transplanted kidney to extend its lifespan.

How is kidney transplant surgery performed?

The surgery for a kidney transplant is performed with general anesthesia, so the patient is not awake and feels no pain during the procedure. The nephrologist and the medical team closely monitor the heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen level throughout the duration of the surgery. It usually takes around four to six hours to perform the surgery.

Following steps are performed:

  • An incision is made by the surgeon on the lower part of one side of the abdomen and the new kidney is placed into the body. The older kidneys of the patient are left in the body unless they are causing complications, such as kidney stones, high blood pressure, pain or infection.
  • The blood vessels in the lower part of the abdomen are attached to the blood vessels of the new kidney.
  • The new kidney and the ureter are connected to the bladder.

There are two types of kidney transplants based on the source of the new kidney:

  1. Deceased-donor kidney transplant: In this, the new healthy kidney comes from someone who has recently died (brain death or cardiac death). The kidney is removed from the deceased person and it is done with the consent from family or from the donor himself/herself prior to death. The donated kidney may be stored on ice or connected to a machine that provides oxygen and nutrients to the kidney until it is transplanted into a recipient with end-stage renal disease.
  2. Living-donor kidney transplant: in the living-donor kidney transplant, the kidney is donated by another living person and is placed into the recipient who has kidney failure. Most commonly, family members are the most compatible living kidney donors but successful kidney transplants are also performed with kidneys donated by unrelated people, such as friends, co-workers or others. A person can live with one functional kidney and can donate another through a surgical procedure, known as nephrectomy. The procedure can be open nephrectomy, which is a traditional surgical approach or it can be laparoscopic nephrectomy, a minimally invasive technique.

The fact that only one donated kidney is required to replace the two failed kidneys in the recipient, makes a living-donor kidney transplant a popular alternative to a deceased-donor kidney transplant.

Another type of kidney transplant is known as a Preemptive kidney transplant in which the patient receives a new kidney before going on dialysis.

There are several benefits of having a preemptive transplant before the dialysis starts, including the lesser risk of rejection of the donor’s kidney by the body, better survival rates, lower treatment costs (as no money has been spent on dialysis) and avoidance of dialysis-related dietary restrictions and health complications.

How long does it take to recover from a kidney transplant?

The length of recovery after a kidney transplant depends on many factors such as:

  • Type of transplant procedure
  • Acceptance of the new kidney by the body
  • Overall health

Each patient may have a different speed of recovery. After the procedure, the patient is shifted to a recovery area where the nurses and doctors observe for signs of complications or organ rejection. The patient is usually discharged from the hospital after a few days or a week and only after the surgeon and transplant team have checked their progress, strength and overall health.

The new kidney will start to make urine like the older ones when they were healthy. Mostly, this occurs immediately but in some cases, it can take a few days. If this happens, patients are temporarily put on dialysis until the new kidney starts to function normally.

The kidney transplant doctor will discuss precautions, such as no lifting heavy objects weighing more than 10 pounds or doing exercise (other than walking) until the wound has healed. It usually takes about six weeks after the surgery.

There will be some soreness or pain around the incision area while the surgical wound heals and will be resolved in a few days. Most patients after kidney transplant can return to work and other normal activities after eight weeks from the transplant procedure. However, how long it takes to return to work after a kidney transplant may depend on several factors, such as speed of recovery, the nature of work you do, and whether you have other medical conditions.  Generally, the kidney transplant surgeon and team help in deciding when it is best to resume work or other activities.

The recovery may take some time, but the ultimate results after the transplant are highly satisfactory. The transplant will allow you to have a normal active life, independence from the dialysis and restrictions with diet associated with it.

You must remember to take all your medicines as per the doctor’s prescription. There are chances the new kidney is rejected by the body as the immune system recognizes the organ as foreign. Immunosuppressants or anti-rejection medications help prevent this from happening. So it is important that you do not skip your medications even for a short while.

The anti-rejection medications may have some side effects and you must contact your transplant team immediately in case you experience any of the following:

  • Thinning of bone (osteoporosis) or bone damage (osteonecrosis)
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • The excessive hair growth or hair loss

What is the cost of kidney transplant surgery?

The cost of a kidney transplant in India depends on a number of factors, such as the type of transplant, surgical technique used, additional complications and others.

Cost of kidney transplant varies significantly in different countries. Some are given below:

United States of America$260000
United Kingdom

As indicated from the above comparison, kidney transplant in India is most economical in comparison to other countries. The overall cost of treatment remains to be highly affordable even after including expenses for travel, logistics and food during the stay in the country. A person from abroad can save more than 60-70% of the money if they choose India for their treatment.

Lyfboat is connected to the best kidney transplant hospitals in India and the best kidney transplant doctors in India. You can send us your medical reports or post an inquiry to know more about the packages for kidney transplant costs in India at the top hospitals.

Dr. Surbhi Suden

Written By Dr. Surbhi Suden

Dr. Surbhi Suden is one of the founders of Lyfboat and a doctor with a renowned name in the Medical tourism industry. She has been working with international patients since 2008 and is a deeply committed professional with a long term vision of transforming the current healthcare scenarios.
Dr. Surbhi Suden

Verified By Dr. Surbhi Suden

Dr. Surbhi Suden is one of the founders of Lyfboat and a doctor with a renowned name in the Medical tourism industry. She has been working with international patients since 2008 and is a deeply committed professional with a long term vision of transforming the current healthcare scenarios.
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