Waiting For A Transplant With Chronic Kidney Disease
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: February 2023 | Last updated: March 2023
Getting a new kidney through kidney transplant can be a life-changing treatment for some people with chronic kidney disease (CKD). While a transplant does not cure CKD, it does help you live longer and improve your quality of life.1
However, becoming eligible for and staying on a transplant list is a complicated process. You must have an evaluation to make sure a kidney transplant is a good option for you. You, your care team, your insurance company, and the transplant center will all be involved in the decision.1
There are about 93,000 people waiting on the kidney transplant list in the United States. The average wait time is 3 to 5 years, but the wait can range from 6 months to more than 6 years. While you are waiting, you must try to stay as healthy as possible and follow all the instructions you are given by your transplant team.2
Types of kidney donation
People who qualify for a transplant can get a new kidney in 2 ways:3
- From a living donor
- From a person who recently died (deceased donor)
A living donor is a person who is alive, who matches your blood type and immune system, and who is willing to give you a kidney. This person does not have to be a relative. Kidneys from living donors last longer than those donated after death. This is why you may be encouraged to talk to family and friends about donation.3
The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is the national organization that matches people on the waiting list with kidneys donated after someone dies. UNOS sets the standards for who receives a kidney. Who gets a kidney depends on many factors, such as:2-4
- Your blood type (more common blood types tend to wait shorter times for a kidney)
- Your age and overall health
- The health of your other organs, especially your heart and lungs
- Your finances and insurance
- Your social support
- How long you have been on the waiting list
- How long you have been on dialysis
You can impact your wait
You have some influence on your chances of getting a kidney while you wait. This can happen in a number of ways:2
- Maintaining your health
- Keeping up with doctor’s appointments and tests
- Having financial and emotional support
Maintaining your health
Staying as healthy as possible while you wait for a transplant can be tough. But it is an important part of qualifying for a new kidney. Your doctor will recommend that you:5
- Exercise as much as possible to help boost your energy levels and reduce stress.
- Manage any depression and anxiety. These are common emotions for people on the transplant waiting list. Try to stay busy, and consider joining a support group.
- Follow your doctor's food and drink suggestions. Food and drink must be tightly managed while you are on dialysis to allow the dialysis to work well.
- Maintain or work toward a health weight. Being at a healthy weight can help you avoid problems during and after transplant surgery.
- Stop smoking.
- Drink little to no alcohol.
- Take your medicines as prescribed.
- Do not miss your dialysis sessions.
- Use birth control. You cannot have transplant surgery if you are pregnant.
Keeping up with tests
In order to stay on the waiting list, you must keep up with certain required tests. These are the same tests you must take to get on a waiting list in the first place.2
The tests may change depending on your age and health, and they are not optional. You must take the tests as prescribed or you will be taken off the list or marked inactive. These tests may include:2
- Blood tests
- Pee (urine) tests
- Chest X-rays
- Blood pressure readings
- Cancer screenings
Personal support is one of the biggest predictors of transplant success. This is why everyone who receives a kidney must have at least 1 main transplant support person. They also need to have a backup support person, just in case something happens to the first person. Wider social support is also important.4
Your transplant support person will help you:4
- Get through the process of getting on the transplant list
- Maintain your health as you wait
- Recover from surgery
- Deal with any complications
Any changes to your support system must be reported to your transplant center.2,4
Finally, because a kidney transplant is an expensive procedure, any changes to your insurance coverage and financial status must be reported to your transplant center. Insurance will not cover all the costs linked to a transplant. You and your support person must be able to cover your own transportation, hotel stay, food, laundry, and lost wages.2,4
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