Why it's done

A kidney transplant is often the treatment of choice for kidney failure compared to a lifetime on dialysis. A kidney transplant can treat chronic kidney disease with glomerular filtration rate (GFR, a measure of kidney function) less than or equal to 20 ml/min and end-stage renal disease to help you feel better and live longer.

Compared to dialysis, kidney transplant is associated with:

  • Better quality of life
  • Lower risk of death
  • Fewer dietary restrictions
  • Lower treatment cost

Some people may also benefit from receiving a kidney transplant before needing to go on dialysis, a procedure known as preemptive kidney transplant.

But for certain people with kidney failure, a kidney transplant may be more risky than dialysis. Conditions that may prevent you from being eligible for a kidney transplant include:

  • Advanced age
  • Severe heart disease
  • Active or recently treated cancer
  • Poorly controlled mental illness
  • Dementia
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Any other factor that could affect their ability to safely undergo the procedure and take the medications needed to prevent organ rejection

Only one donated kidney is needed to replace two failed kidneys, making living-donor kidney transplantation an option.

If a compatible living donor isn't available, your name may be placed on a kidney transplant waiting list to receive a kidney from a deceased donor.

How long you have to wait for a deceased donor organ depends on the degree of matching or compatibility between you and the donor, time on dialysis and expected survival post-transplant. Some people get a match within several months and others may wait several years.