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Perhaps the most common question of a potential kidney donor is, "What are the long-term consequences to my health of living with one kidney?"
Medical research on the long-term effects of living kidney donation has been conducted for the last 15 years or so, and there is need for much more research. In the meantime, the general conclusions from research to date include:
Staying Healthy After Donation
The medical studies suggest there are few if any health consequences from donating a kidney. However, some precautions naturally are in order. For example, you may need to limit or give up activities that could damage your remaining kidney, such as rough contact sports (for example, boxing or American football).
As noted above, some studies have shown a slightly higher risk of high blood pressure and proteinuria. These risks can be monitored through regular physical exams, blood tests, and urine tests. Interestingly, Switzerland established a living donor registry in 1993 to track living donors and to ensure they are regularly examined by their personal physician for blood pressure and renal functions. No such registry or post-operative protocols exist in the U.S. or other countries. U.S. transplant centers are required by UNOS to follow up with you after six months, one year, and two years. To date, adherence to this requirement has been limited, submissions are incomplete, and the results are not used in constructive ways (e.g., research). The UNOS Living Donor Committee has proposed a standard medical and psychosocial follow-up protocol, but UNOS has yet to adopt the suggestions.
Here's additional information on living with one kidney from the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. And here is an LDO page capturing the suggestions of living donors who have posted on the LDO message board.
Pregnancy should not be a problem following donation, but a female should let the obstetrician know she has only one kidney so kidney function can be monitored during the pregnancy. One recent study in Norway indicated an elevated risk of preeclampsia among women who had been living kidney donors. Physicians recommend waiting at least two months following kidney donation before getting pregnant. You can find more information here and by searching the LDO message board, where several LDO participants have left messages describing their experience with pregnancy following donation.
You should also consider your psychological health after
donation. For example, some living donors on LDO report feeling
depressed for a while shortly after donation. This feeling may
be the result of fatigue
following surgery, renewed demands on you by family and work while you
are still recovering, or the sudden letdown following a major life
event that had been marked by lots of energy, anxiety, and attention
from others. A medical research study showed that nearly 11% of living
donors were prescribed anti-depressants following donation.
Your mood can also be influenced by what happens to the recipient of your donated kidney. The recipient may reject the organ or may die despite the transplant. It's natural to go through a grieving process in this circumstance. If your feelings of sadness persist, please get professional help. Fortunately, recipients often have significantly improved health immediately, and donors report feeling very satisfied, rewarded, and relieved by such an outcome.
If you donated to a spouse, family member, or friend, the nature of your relationship with that person may change. In some cases, it may be negative. You or the recipient may feel guilt, indebtedness, conflict, or regret and experience manipulation and other destructive behavior. Seek professional counseling if your relationship becomes dysfunctional. Fortunately, most living donors report a great improvement in their relationship with the recipient and family members after the donation.
Additional Issues that May Arise
Two additional issues related to donating a kidney you should be aware of are:
Continuing to Help After Donation
After the donation, many living donors look for ways to continue to help others. Here are suggestions for continuing to help others:
Do you still have questions? The best thing to do is leave a message on the LDO message board. The LDO web site has more than 500 visitors every day, many of whom have already donated. We would be happy to help you with any questions or issues you may have.
All of us at LDO hope you have a wonderful
© 2012 International Association of Living Organ Donors, Inc.