How long do I have to wait for a donor kidney?

Gabriel M. Danovitch, MD
Kidney transplants are the most common type of organ transplantation with more than 17,000 operations being performed each year in the United States alone. Kidney transplantation surgery is highly successful. About 150,000 people in the United States are living with a donated kidney. However, the demand for donor organs exceeds the supply. More than 100,000 Americans with kidney disease are candidates for a kidney transplant. The national average wait time for a transplant is 3.6 years and may be as long as ten years for some patients. The best solution is to have a living donor transplant from a healthy and motivated family member or friend. Problems of incompatibility can now be routinely overcome

This content originally appeared online at UCLA Health.
The wait time for a deceased donor kidney transplant is different from one person to another because of different reasons. One reason is that the government has made rules so that organs are given out fairly. A point system is used in order to select a recipient. These points are a total of five different areas, they are:
  • age
  • length of time on the list
  • how well the donor and recipient match genetically
  • antibody level
  • medical urgency
The people with the most points who will be at the top of the list with one donor may not be at the top of the list with another donor, due to their points being different with this donor. This donor may not match as well or someone who has waited longer may come up first.

Another reason that one person may wait longer than another may be because of the blood type. Different blood types have different wait times. The average national wait times (transplant center specific wait times may vary from national wait times) for the following blood types are as follows:
  • A blood type: 3 to 3 1/2 years
  • B blood type: 5 to 5 1/2 years
  • O blood type: about 5 years
  • AB blood type: 2 to 2 1/2 years

Once people are approved for a kidney transplant by the transplant team and have financial clearance, they are placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) waiting list. UNOS is the agency authorized by the federal government to maintain the database for all transplant recipients in the United States.

The length of time people wait before receiving an organ varies greatly. Waiting time depends on several factors, including tissue and blood types, as well as organ availability. The average waiting time for a kidney transplant in this region is two to six years.

The length of time that patients must wait for a kidney transplant varies greatly. If a patient has a friend or family member who wishes to donate a kidney, the time to transplantation may be a matter of just weeks or months. If no living donor is available and the patient remains on the wait list for a deceased-donor organ, the wait may be several years.

Regardless of the time to transplantation or the donor source, candidates for transplantation must maintain close communication and regular checkups with the transplant team. It is important to remain as healthy and strong as possible, so that when the donor organ becomes available, the patient will be in the best possible physical condition to undergo surgery. Good health not only makes it more likely that transplant surgery can proceed, but it helps patients recover better and faster after the surgery. Patients should keep the transplant team's phone numbers accessible at all times, and should contact the team if any new or significant health issues develop. Each patient is assigned to a Transplant Coordinator who will be their primary contact while waiting for their kidney transplant.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.