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The benefits and risks of kidney transplant versus dialysis

For dialysis patients, do the benefits of kidney transplant outweigh the risks?

“Most patients who come into our clinic come in thinking that they just want to get off dialysis,” says Jon Hundley, M.D., a transplant surgeon at Piedmont Transplant Institute.

Patients on dialysis typically undergo the treatment three times a week for about four hours per visit on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Alternatively, they may be able to receive at-home dialysis.

“It drains you,” says Dr. Hundley. “A lot of them describe it as miserable.”

Increased life expectancy with kidney transplant

“What patients often don’t realize is there’s also a huge survival advantage with transplantation compared to staying on dialysis,” he explains.

For example, a 30-year-old on dialysis would have a life expectancy of 15 years. With a deceased kidney donor transplant (a kidney from someone who is brain-dead), life expectancy increases to 30 years.  Best of all, a living donor kidney transplant increases life expectancy to 40 years.

Improved quality of life after kidney transplant

Not only can a transplant help a patient live longer, but it also eliminates the need for dialysis.

“It is a huge quality of life advantage,” says Dr. Hundley. “You live longer with a better quality of life.”

The risks of kidney transplantation

The risks of kidney transplantation are fairly minimal. Most patients spend three to four days in the hospital post-surgery and 98 percent of them don’t have any major complications with the surgery.

There are some long-term risks associated with transplantation involving immunosuppression and the risk of organ rejection.

“You have to be on medicines for the rest of your life that suppress your immune system so that you don’t reject the kidney,” explains Dr. Hundley.

These medications can reduce a patient’s ability to fight infection. It can also put them at higher risk for cancer.

“The good news is for patients who take their medications every day and get their labs checked frequently, the vast majority of them do well for a long time,” he says.

To learn more about kidney transplantation, visit Piedmont Transplant Institute

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