overview and introduction
learn about kidney transplants
When a patient's kidneys fail, they need medical treatment to help their body perform the work their own kidneys can no longer manage on its own. One of the most effective treatment options for kidney failure is a kidney transplant.
A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure that places a healthy kidney from a live or deceased donor into a person whose kidneys no longer function properly.
It is important to note that a kidney transplant is a treatment for kidney failure; it’s not a cure. Patients who receive transplants will need to take daily medication to ensure their immune systems don't reject the new kidney. Patients will also need to see their health care providers regularly.
A working transplanted kidney does a better job of filtering wastes and keeping you healthy than dialysis. However, a kidney transplant isn’t for everyone. Your doctor may tell you that you’re not healthy enough for transplant surgery.
about kidney transplants
basic facts and information
Use the following list to learn more about kidney transplants and find answers to some common questions related to organ donation.
Will a transplant last the rest of my life?
What is a "preemptive" or "early" transplant?
How will I pay for a transplant?
If you have Medicare coverage, the costs of receiving a transplant will mostly be covered. Medicare covers about 80% of the costs associated with an evaluation, transplant operation, follow-up care, and anti-rejection medicines.
Medicare Part B will also cover 80% of the cost of immunosuppressant medications for as long as you have Medicare.
If you have health insurance from your employer or other private health insurance, most policies cover many costs related to kidney transplants, including medicines. Insurance does not cover for other costs like transportation, food and lodging.
What are the downsides?
You will face the risks of surgery
You will also need to take anti-rejection medicines for as long as your new kidney is working, which can have side effects
You will have a higher risk for infections and certain types of cancer
What are the benefits of receiving a kidney transplant?
Who can get a kidney transplant?
What if I am older, or have other health issues?
Is it legal for people to sell a kidney?
No, it is not. It is against U.S. federal law to sell an organ.
getting a transplant
how it works
Learn what to expect when receiving a kidney transplant - find facts about surgery, recovery, and how to plan for life with a new kidney.
How do I start the process of getting a transplant?
How does the evaluation process work?
What does the operation involve?
What are anti-rejection medicines?
What happens after surgery, when I go home?
What if my body tries to reject the new kidney?
How often do rejection episodes happen?
When can I return to work?
Will surgery affect sexual intimacy, or the ability to become pregnant?
Will I need to follow a special diet?
finding a kidney
introduction to the donor process
There are two ways to receive a kidney transplant: through a living donor, or through a deceased donor. To learn more about how both processes work, please consult the list below.
Where do donated kidneys come from?
Is it better to get a kidney from a living donor?
Are there disadvantages to a living donation?
Are there financial costs for the living donor?
What is the transplant waitlist?
When should I explore a kidney transplant?
How do I get on the transplant waitlist?
Ask your healthcare professional for a referral to a local transplant center or contact a transplant center in your area. Learn as much as possible about the different transplant centers.
Choose a transplant center that best fit your needs. Things you should consider when choosing one include:
Insurance coverage and cost.
Location for ease of going to and from the transplant center.
If you have a living donor, be sure the transplant center performs living donations and if your live donor isn’t a good match, that the transplant center participates in a ‘kidney paired exchange program.
Support group availability.
- Schedule an appointment for evaluation. An evaluation will help determine if you are a candidate for a kidney transplant. Each center has their own criteria for accepting patients for transplant.
How is the right organ found for me?
What is the average wait time for a kidney transplant?
How well you match with the available kidney
Your blood group and if you are sensitized with high antibody levels (from prior failed transplants, blood transfusions, and/or pregnancies)
How many donors are available in your local area
Why do some patients wait longer than others for a transplant?
ABO (blood type). Blood type O has the longest wait. This is because blood type O donors can donate to other blood groups, but a patient with blood type O can only receive an organ from a donor with blood type O. Also, it has been found that those with blood type B tend to have longer wait times as well.
Prior pregnancies, blood transfusions, or past transplants. These increase a substance in your body called antibodies. A higher level of antibodies in your blood can make it more difficult to match with a compatible donor.
How do I know my status on the transplant wait list?
What would disqualify me from getting a transplant? Does my age matter?
Serious heart disease
Not being healthy enough to survive an operation
Obesity (being overweight)
Smoking or substance abuse
Can I be listed at multiple transplant centers?
How can I find a living donor?
The Big Ask, The Big Give. This resource center, run by our national office in New York, offers comprehensive information about transplants, donors, and how to ask for a donation.
Alliance for Paired Donation. Helps save lives by significantly reducing the wait time for a kidney transplant through kidney paired donation.
Living Donors Online. Is an online community for living donors, potential donors, their families, and the medical community.
The National Kidney Registry. Helps save and improve the lives of people facing kidney failure by increasing the quality, speed, and number of living donor transplants in the world.
The Paired Donation Network. Is dedicated to making living donor kidney transplantation possible for all patients with kidney failure. It includes over 80 kidney transplant programs in 23 states.
The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). Manages the waiting list for a transplant in the U.S. and matches donors to recipients. Their patient-centered Transplant Living site has additional information about organ donation and transplantation.
read more about topics related to kidney transplants
To learn more about topics related to kidney transplantation please visit our national office's Kidney A - Z Health Guide by clicking the links below.
NKFI kidney health resources
The information shared on this website has been reviewed by staff at the New York City headquarters of the National Kidney Foundation. Please note: material contained here are intended solely for reference. This material does not constitute medical advice; it is intended for informational purposes only. If you feel you need professional medical care, please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.