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Is Life Harder After Donating a Kidney?

Eusebio (EJ) Tamez - Director, Patient Coaching

Since the first living kidney donation took place in 1958, more than 183,000 people have become living kidney donors. The vast majority of those donors have experienced no post-donation complications, going on to lead long, healthy lives.

If you are wondering what happens after you donate a kidney or if there is anything you will no longer be able to do after donating a kidney, there’s one important thing to keep in mind: Living kidney donors undergo extensive medical screening and testing before being approved as donors, which means that if you are approved, you’re already ahead of the game health-wise.

Transplant professionals are dedicated to ensuring that the donation process will not have a negative impact on the donor, so you will only be approved if you are in excellent health. In a way, medical screening for kidney donation acts as a sort of “health test” that is vastly more comprehensive than any exam or screening you might receive from a primary care physician or medical specialist.

Therefore, if you are approved as a donor, you already have a very good chance of living longer and experiencing fewer health issues than the average person. Let’s review the two major questions most potential living kidney donors have about post-transplant life: lifestyle changes and life expectancy.

Kidney Donation and Lifestyle Changes

After donating a kidney, you will go through a recovery period. The length of this recovery period depends on several factors, but most people who have donated a kidney report feeling back to 100% within two to three months.

After kidney donation, you can return to your normal life, which includes eating what you like, drinking responsibly, and participating in the activities you enjoy. There are no dietary restrictions and you will not need to take any medications.

You will need to return to the transplant center where you had your donation surgery (or in some cases a different center closer to you) for follow-ups, just to be sure there are no issues.

Many living kidney donors report improved mental and emotional health after donating, including feeling a strong sense of well-being, improved self-esteem, and a sense of community with other donors. In cases where donors are able to connect with the person who received their kidney, this connection also often leads to strong feelings of friendship and gratitude—on both sides.

For many people, being able to give someone the gift of life through kidney donation brings a profound sense of joy and personal fulfillment that has a positive impact on every facet of their lives.

Kidney Donation and Life Expectancy

There is significant evidence that people who become living kidney donors actually live longer than the general population.

In a 1997 study of living kidney donors in Sweden, 85% of donors were still living 20 years after donation, significantly higher than the expected survival rate in the general population of 66%.

A 2010 Johns Hopkins study, which tracked 80,347 living kidney donors in the United States over a 15-year period, showed that by 12 years after donation, living kidney donors had a mortality rate of 1.5%, almost half that of the general population.

So, not only is life not harder after kidney donation, it will likely be longer.

Long-Term Effects of Living Kidney Donation

While donating a kidney may require some physical discomfort or adjustment in the short term, the most significant long-term effects of living kidney donation are not physical, but emotional.

Many living kidney donors report feeling a sense of purpose and satisfaction that transcends any challenges encountered along the way. Knowing that they’ve made a life-changing difference for someone in need can serve as a source of strength and motivation during times of uncertainty.

The decision to donate a kidney is a deeply personal one that can evoke a range of emotions. While there may be hurdles to overcome and adjustments to make, life after donating a kidney is not inherently harder. Instead, it’s a journey filled with opportunities for personal growth, compassion, and profound connection with others.

For more information on life after kidney donation, see our blog posts on kidney donation and athletic performance, pregnancy and childbirth after kidney donation, diet and nutrition after kidney donation, medical follow-ups after kidney donation, and kidney donation and life expectancy.

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