Kidney transplantation can treat advanced kidney disease and kidney failure, but it is not a cure. Some forms of kidney disease may return after transplant.

The health risks associated with kidney transplant include those associated directly with the surgery itself, rejection of the donor organ and side effects of taking medications (anti-rejection or immunosuppressants) needed to prevent your body from rejecting the donated kidney.

Deciding whether kidney transplant is right for you is a personal decision that deserves careful thought and consideration of the serious risks and benefits. Talk through your decision with your friends, family and other trusted advisors.

Complications of the procedure

Kidney transplant surgery carries a risk of significant complications, including:

  • Blood clots
  • Bleeding
  • Leaking from or blockage of the tube (ureter) that links the kidney to the bladder
  • Infection
  • Failure of the donated kidney
  • Rejection of the donated kidney
  • An infection or cancer that can be transmitted with the donated kidney
  • Death, heart attack and stroke

Anti-rejection medication side effects

After a kidney transplant, you'll take medications to help prevent your body from rejecting the donor kidney. These medications can cause a variety of side effects, including:

  • Acne
  • Bone thinning (osteoporosis) and bone damage (osteonecrosis)
  • Diabetes
  • Excessive hair growth or hair loss
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Increased risk of cancer, particularly skin cancer and lymphoma
  • Infection
  • Puffiness (edema)
  • Weight gain
June 24, 2016
  1. Wein AJ, et al., eds. Renal transplantation. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2016. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 7, 2016.
  2. Partnering with your transplant team: The patient's guide to transplantation. United Network for Organ Sharing. https://www.unos.org/wp-content/uploads/unos/WEPNTK.pdf. Accessed March 11, 2016.
  3. Treatment methods for kidney failure: Transplantation. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/transplant/index.aspx. Accessed March 11, 2016.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources. Organ matching. http://www.organdonor.gov/about/organmatching.html. Accessed April 7, 2016.
  5. The kidneys and how they work. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/yourkidneys/index.aspx. Accessed March 11, 2016.
  6. Barbara Woodward Lips Patient Education Center. Kidney transplant. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2013.
  7. Hart A., et al. OPTN/SRTR Annual Data Report: Kidney. American Journal of Transplantation. 2016;16:11.
  8. Brennan DC. HLA matching and graft survival in kidney transplantation. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 8, 2016.
  9. Rossi AP, et al. Evaluation of the potential renal transplant recipient. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 11, 2016.
  10. Klein CL, et al. HLA and ABO sensitization and desensitization in renal transplantation. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 11, 2016.
  11. Riggin ER. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. April 7, 2016.
  12. Venkataraman V, et al. Dialysis issues prior to and after renal transplantation. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 15, 2016.
  13. Rees L, et al. Overview of renal replacement therapy (RRT) for children with chronic kidney disease. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 15, 2016.
  14. Kidney disease: causes. National Kidney Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/kidneydiscauses. Accessed April 7, 2016.
  15. Berns JS. Patient information: Dialysis or kidney transplantation—Which is right for me. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 7, 2016.
  16. U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources. Organ transplantation. http://www.organdonor.gov/about/transplantationprocess.html. Accessed April 8, 2016.
  17. UNOS. Frequently asked questions about kidney transplant evaluation and listing. https://www.unos.org/wpcontent/uploads/unos/Kidney_Eval_Brochure.pdf. Accessed April 8, 2016.
  18. UNOS Transplant Living. Selecting a hospital. http://www.transplantliving.org/before-the-transplant/getting-on-the-list/selecting-a-hospital/. Accessed April 5, 2016.
  19. Living donation: Information you need to know. Transplant Living. https://www.unos.org/donation/living-donation/. Accessed March 30, 2016.
  20. Kidney transplant. National Kidney Foundation. Accessed April 8, 2016.
  21. Vella J. Risk factors for graft failure in kidney transplantation. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 8, 2016.
  22. Preparing for the transplant. American Society of Transplantation. http://www.healthytransplant.com/health_maintenance/preparing_for_transplant.aspx. Accessed March 22, 2016.
  23. Orandi BJ, et al. Kidney transplants from incompatible live donors. New England Journal of Medicine. 2016;374:940.
  24. Stegall M. Dosing regimen of eculizumab added to conventional treatment in positive cross match living donor kidney transplant. ClinicalTrials.gov. http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00670774?term=eculizumab+and+mayo&rank=3. Accessed April 8, 2016.
  25. Heilman RL, et al. Impact of early conversion from tacrolimus to sirolimus on chronic allograft changes in kidney recipients on rapid steroid withdrawal. Transplantation. 2012;93:47.
  26. Mai ML (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Fla. April 27, 2016.