What do my kidneys do?

Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs found at the back of your body. There is one on each side of your body, just a few inches above your waist. The kidneys are about the size of your fist and are reddish-brown in colour.

The kidneys take unwanted substances out of your body and turn them into urine, which is then passed down into your bladder and out of your body.

kidney graphic 

Your kidneys:

  • Filter waste products, water and salt from your blood
  • Balance electrolytes, such as calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium in your blood
  • Return nutrients from the food you eat, such as calcium, to your bloodstream
  • Help your bones form properly, your heart to beat, and your muscles to contract
  • Keep an acid-base balance in your blood, which makes sure your body's proteins are working correctly
  • Make hormones, which you need to form red blood cells
  • Regulate your blood pressure, and make sure calcium is absorbed properly from your bloodstream

What is kidney failure?

For some people, the kidneys stop working properly. This is called kidney or renal failure. This is often caused by acute kidney injury or end-stage renal (kidney) disease.

Common causes of kidney failure are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Genetic kidney disease (such as polycystic kidney disease)
  • Kidney stones
  • Kidney inflammation (swelling)

There are over 80 different types of kidney diseases. Some are passed down genetically from parents to their children at birth. Some kidney diseases develop quickly, while others take years to develop.

How do I know if I have kidney failure?

If you have kidney failure:

  • You may be short of breath
  • You may start to feel itchy
  • You may feel sick to your stomach
  • You may have trouble sleeping

If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels may lower

Your doctor may be able to tell if your kidneys are failing from your blood and urine tests.

Why would I need a kidney transplant?

There are different treatments for kidney failure. One treatment is to have dialysis treatment many times per week to remove the waste products, water and salt from your blood since your kidneys can no longer do this on their own.

Another treatment for kidney failure is a kidney transplant.

If you choose to have a kidney transplant, it will improve your overall energy, quality of life, and it will give your body back its natural functions. The benefit of having a kidney transplant is that you only need to have one healthy and working kidney to meet the needs of your body. A kidney transplant can be done before or after you start dialysis. With a successful kidney transplant, dialysis is no longer needed.

Who can have a kidney transplant?

All patients with advanced kidney disease can be considered for a kidney transplant. Even patients who are 80 years of age or older, can have a transplant if they are healthy enough to have surgery and take medications needed to allow the kidney transplant to work properly.

If you are interested in learning more about a kidney transplant, talk to your doctor and ask for a referral to see us in the UHN Kidney Transplant Program.

After you have been referred by your kidney doctor to the UHN Kidney Transplant Program, you will go through an evaluation process to find out if you are eligible for a kidney transplant.

If you would like to learn more about the UHN Kidney Transplant Program, fill out our online Referral Form for Kidney Transplant or ask your kidney doctor to fill out the Physician Referral form.

Who can be my donor?

Kidneys for transplantation can come from:

  • People who pass away and donate their organs (deceased donors). In Ontario, Trillium Gift of Life Network is responsible for managing the retrieval and allocation of deceased donor organs to patients throughout the province.
  • Healthy people who wish to donate one of their kidneys (living donors). Living donor kidney transplants are managed by the hospital. Your living kidney donor could be your spouse, a family member, a friend, a coworker or even a stranger. Don't count anyone out as a possible donor.

The UHN Kidney Transplant Program will work with you to find out if your possible donor is a match with you and can donate a kidney to help you. If they are not a match, our doctors and surgeons can find ways for you to have a transplant through our Specialized Transplant Programs.

How long will I have to wait for a kidney transplant?

The amount of time that you may have to wait for a kidney transplant will depend on many factors.

Within the Kidney Transplant Clinic, a FASTRAK (Focused Assessment for Transplantation of the Kidney) process has been implemented to facilitate your evaluation. The team works with you to find out, as quickly as possible, whether you can have a kidney transplant. The team can tell you if you will be able to have a transplant.

Once you have been accepted for a transplant, the wait time will depend on:

  1. Whether you have a Living Donor. If you have a living donor, your wait time can be greatly reduced. Many people with kidney failure can even receive a transplant before they need dialysis. If you are on the deceased donor waiting list, you will need to stay on dialysis for several years before you reach the top of the waitlist and receive a kidney. This is one of the many reasons for you to consider a living donor transplantation.
  2. Your blood type
  3. How long you have been on dialysis
  4. Your age (Whether you can receive an ECD Kidney transplant)
  5. Any other health issues you may have, including high levels of antibodies to potential donors

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