Risks Involved in Living Donation

The surgical process of removing a kidney from a healthy donor has become a fairly standard procedure, but it carries the same level of risk for the donor as does any other major surgery. 

The risks associated with surgery and donation should be discussed with your transplant team, and include:

  • Pain. Medication to relieve pain will be provided after surgery.
  • Blood Clotting. Patient movement after the surgery will help stimulate blood flow to reduce this problem.
  • Infection. If the surgical incision gets infected, it can be treated with antibiotics.
  • Reaction to anesthesia. Some people may have an allergic reaction to the agent used to put them to sleep before the surgery. The doctor will take action to correct this problem immediately.
  • Pneumonia. Any surgery increases the chance for pneumonia. Coughing and breathing deeply will help reduce this risk.
  • Lung Collapse. Because the kidney is close to the lung, the space around the lung might inadvertently be opened during the surgery and the lung will collapse.  A tube will be inserted and the lung re-inflated when this happens.
  • Kidney Damage. There is a slight chance the donor’s kidney can be damaged during the surgery. Doctors will do all they can to minimize this risk including changing to an open surgery from a laparoscopy.
  • Death. For living kidney donors, the risk of death is about 0.06% (about 1 death for every 1,700 procedures).

Some possible long-term risks to the donor of kidney donation include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension);
  • Large amounts of protein in the urine;
  • Hernia;
  • Bloating or nausea in the abdominal area or bowels;
  • Remaining kidney impairment or possible organ failure that leads to the need for dialysis; and
  • In rare cases, death.

Positive Psychological Aspects

For most donors, the positive emotional benefits far outweigh the risks of the transplant surgery. Many donors report a positive lift by trying to improve the health and well-being of the person in need of a kidney. Transplants can greatly improve the recipient’s life, allowing them to spend more time with family, participate in hobbies and activities and eat a less-restrictive diet.

Negative Psychological Aspects

Because surgery is a major event, there is always the possibility for some negative psychological symptoms in the donor and recipient during the healing process – and perhaps down the road. These can be the result of one or more of the following:

  • The donated kidney may not function properly in the recipient after transplant;
  • The donor or recipient may have previously unforeseen problems as a result of the procedure;
  • There may be body image problems based on the scars from the procedure; and
  • The donor or recipient may experience feelings of anger, regret, resentment, anxiety or depression.

Treatment of these symptoms may be short term or long term and may have associated costs or medications which could cause further complications.

Once again, these problems are rare, but should be considered before making a decision on living kidney donation.




Number of kidney transplants performed in the United States. Learn More