What are the long-term risks of donation?
The amount of research into the long-term risks of kidney donation is limited. However, most studies suggest that you can live a normal, healthy life with one kidney. In fact, when one kidney is removed, the single normal kidney will increase in capacity to compensate. This is called “compensatory growth.” Studies show that your total kidney function returns to roughly 70% within 10 to 11 days, and about 70 to 80% at long term follow-up. You will also have a scar from the donor operation- the size and location of the scar will depend on the type of operation you have.
One possible long-term risk may be high blood pressure. Research shows that many people who donate a kidney have slightly higher blood pressure after several years. African-Americans and Hispanics are known to have an increased risk for high blood pressure, kidney disease, and diabetes. Kidney donation may increase this risk for some donors.
Some donors have reported long-term problems with pain, nerve damage, hernia, or intestinal obstruction. These risks seem to be rare, but there are currently no national statistics on the frequency of these problems.
There have been occasional reports of patients who developed kidney failure after donation, possibly due to heredity factors (family background). If kidney failure occurs, you will be given a higher priority for a kidney transplant on the waitlist for a deceased donor. The typical wait for a kidney donor in 2015 was 145 days versus 1607 days for other people. You may have some period of time on dialysis while waiting for a transplant.
There is also some risk with pregnancy. Women who donate a kidney and become pregnant have a higher risk for gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, and fetal loss. If you are planning on having children, make sure you discuss childbearing with your transplant team before donating a kidney.
There are also some financial risks to consider. Some donors have reported difficulty in getting, affording, or keeping disability or life insurance. You may also experience lost wages during your surgery and recovery time.