Kidney Donation Facts

Every year, thousands of living donors donate a healthy kidney to a person who has kidney disease, saving them from years of waiting for a kidney from a deceased donor, going through dialysis and complications associated with kidney failure.

Although living kidney donation is becoming more common—a record 6,860 living donors donated a kidney in 2019—some people may hesitate to become a living donor because they have heard incorrect information about the kidney donation process.

Here are some of the questions people ask about living kidney donation, and the facts as explained by Marian Charlton, RN, CCTC, who is the chief clinical transplant coordinator at Hackensack Meridian Health.

Are kidney donors able to live normal, healthy lives after donation?

Donors can live a normal life after donation. We fully evaluate everybody prior to allowing them to donate and if we do determine that there are contraindications to donating and we’re putting them at high risk then we will not clear somebody to donate.

Does donating a kidney shorten your lifespan?

Donors actually tend to live a longer life because they tend to take much better care of themselves post-donation and hence have a better quality of life.

Are kidney donors more likely to get kidney disease?

A huge component of the donor evaluation is assessing the kidney function of the potential donor. If it’s determined that that donor has any type of kidney disease, they will not be allowed to donate.

Do you have to be young to donate a kidney?

People into their 70s can donate a kidney—it is all about the health of the potential living donor. The oldest donor that I helped get through the donation process was 78—he donated to his wife and lived a perfectly healthy life afterwards.

Does a kidney donor have to take medications for the rest of their life?

A kidney donor will be given prescriptions for pain medication and stool softeners at discharge from the hospital. These are only for the immediate post-operative period, after that time, a donor does not have to take medication. A kidney donor will never have to take anti-rejection medications.

Will a kidney donor experience debilitating pain for an extended period of time?

A kidney donor will have some pain after surgery from both the incisions and related to gas and bloating. This pain will diminish in the days following surgery and can be controlled with pain medication if necessary.

Will a kidney donor will be on bed rest following surgery?

A kidney donor will be out of bed and walking independently before discharge from the hospital.

Will a kidney donor have to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time after surgery?

A kidney donor will be hospitalized for two nights (i.e., if surgery is on a Tuesday, the donor will typically be discharged on Thursday).

Will a kidney donor still be able to exercise and participate in sports?

A kidney donor should be able to return to regular activities and exercise at approximately four to six weeks following surgery.

Do kidney donors have to follow a special diet following donation?

A kidney donor should eat a healthy, well balanced diet. There are no dietary restrictions following donation.

Can a kidney donor still consume alcohol following donation?

While excessive alcohol use is always dangerous, a kidney donor can consume alcohol in moderation.

Will a female kidney donor still be able to get pregnant after donation?

A female kidney donor should wait at least six months after donation to become pregnant. The body requires time to recover from the surgery and to adjust to living with one kidney prior to pregnancy.

Will donating a kidney negatively affect the donor’s sex life?

Most kidney donors are able to resume normal relationships within two weeks of donating.

Can living donors choose who they donate a kidney to?

It depends. If a donor is entering paired exchange, they do not have the ability to choose to whom they are donating, however in other circumstances they can choose, be it their spouse, their friend or whomever they wish to donate to.

Are gay people allowed to donate a kidney?

Of course gay people can donate a kidney.

Are people with tattoos allowed to donate a kidney?

People with tattoos can donate, however if somebody has gotten a tattoo recently we do ask them to wait just a short period of time just to make sure there were no issues of transmission of any type of disease during the tattoo process.

Does the Catholic Church oppose organ donation?

The Catholic Church supports organ donation.