What happens after kidney transplant surgery?

After their surgery, kidney transplant recipients go directly to a recovery room. When they awake, an intravenous (IV) line is in place and a Foley catheter drains urine from the bladder.

Transplanted kidneys from a living donor generally make urine right away, often a large amount of urine the first day following surgery.

Kidneys from deceased donors may take days or weeks to produce urine. In these cases, short-term dialysis may be required. Normally, kidney transplant recipients are ready to go home three to seven days following their surgery.

Depending upon their post-surgical recovery, most kidney transplant recipients are transitioned back to the care of their community nephrologist anywhere from three to six months after their transplant.

  • Counseling is recommended for post-transplant recipients who may experience a variety of lifestyle changes. Attendance at support group meetings is also advised.
  • It is important that kidney transplant recipients avoid certain foods that may interact with the post-transplant medications.
  • It is important that all medications be taken as prescribed after kidney transplant surgery. It is also helpful for people to be familiar with the side effects of their medications.
  • Many cough and cold medications contain agents that can narrow blood vessels and raise blood pressure and creatinine levels. Talk to your doctor about cold medications that do not have harmful effects on a transplanted kidney and may be purchased at the local drugstore without a prescription.

After kidney transplant surgery, you'll receive medications to prevent rejection and infection.

After kidney transplant surgery,the recipient will be transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) and doctors will inform the family. In the ICU the recipient will be monitored very closely 24 to 48 hours. A nurse will  measure how much fluid is taken in and how much urine is put out. Blood pressure, pulse and temperature will be monitored every hour until the recipient is stable. A nurse will check every hour to make sure the kidney is working and that there are no complications. Blood will be drawn to see how the kidney is working and to make sure there are no problems.

If everything is normal in the ICU, the recipient will be moved to the transplant unit where he or she will be closely monitored for possible complications such as:

  • urine leaks
  • lymphoceles
  • failure of the transplant to function
  • infection
  • rejection

The recipient hospital stay is five to seven days; for a living donor, the hospital stay is three to four days. 

After kidney transplant surgery, patients remain in the hospital for four to six days on average. After discharge from the hospital, patients will return for frequent follow-up visits. These will include physical examinations, blood and urine tests, diagnostic testing (such as ultrasound), and review of medications. Patients' primary care physicians will also be involved in follow-up care, and routine health maintenance is important, including dental care with antibiotic prophylaxis, annual eye exams and, for women, gynecologic care.

During the weeks or few months immediately after surgery, it is normal to feel tired and to need extra rest. The transplant team recommends that patients go out or visit with friends if they feel up to it, but not to overdo activity to the point of becoming exhausted. Depending on the medications patients are taking, they may be unable to drive for several weeks. Good nutrition and daily exercise is important to a successful recovery.

Most patients recover fully and are able to return to work or school within a few months. Life after kidney transplantation will involve many changes, however. These include medication regimens, possible travel restrictions during the first year, and the need to take precautions regarding sun exposure, infections, and more. Pregnancy may be inadvisable for some women after transplantation. Dietary changes may be required.

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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.