In the months, weeks, and days leading up to kidney transplant surgery, it's a good idea to become familiar with what to expect afterward. The highlights below can help set expectations.
Regardless of whether the kidney is from a living kidney donor or deceased kidney donor, your surgery will involve general anesthesia, and will be followed by treatment with anti-rejection drugs.
In most cases, your old kidneys will not be removed. This is because even failed kidneys release chemicals that help your body work. However, if you have a kidney disease that causes ongoing problems, such as persistent kidney infections or uncontrolled blood pressure, then your transplant team would consider removing your own kidneys. One of the most common medical conditions requiring "native nephrectomy" (removal of your kidneys) is congenital reflux disease.
After your transplant, your new kidney should work as soon as your blood flows through it. In some cases, it takes a couple of weeks before the kidney starts working. This is called delayed graft function.
To make sure everything went well, you'll be monitored in the recovery room for several hours and then moved to a step-down or transplant unit. Here, you'll be encouraged to get out of bed and walk as much as you can.
The average hospital stay is 4 to 7 days, depending on the function of your kidney. Most people who have a kidney transplant will return to normal activities and lifestyle within several weeks to months after receiving their kidney transplants.
It is important to remember that transplantation is a serious surgery and risks still remain — even years after kidney transplant surgery. One of the more common complications of transplantation is rejection. However, thanks to anti-rejection drugs, rejection episodes are less common and can usually be managed.
Because rejection can occur without producing any signs or symptoms and may only be found during a regular office visit, it is important that you remember to keep all of your scheduled appointments and complete needed lab work.
As you know, kidney rejection is serious. That makes taking your anti-rejection medication directly as prescribed serious as well. Make sure you take the same anti-rejection medicine each time, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
The medications you take to prevent kidney rejection work by slowing down your body's immune system. While they help to prevent your transplant from rejection, they also lower your body's ability to fight infections.
To help lower the risk for infection, you may be prescribed preventive medications. Because your risk for infection will go down over time, your transplant team may decide to lower the amount or dose of preventive medications that you require.
Infections can become very serious and can even lead to death if left untreated.