After the surgery, you’re officially a living kidney donor. Congratulations! In general, those who ultimately choose to become kidney donors are much healthier than the general population because kidney donors must undergo a comprehensive physical and mental health evaluation prior to being approved to donate a kidney.
It’s still important to think about the short-term and long-term health. Many studies have confirmed that kidney donors have a much longer life expectancy than the general population as a result of being screened for chronic diseases and overall health prior to being a kidney donor. However, since most donors are first degree relatives of kidney patients, they also have an increased risk of developing chronic kidney disease (CKD) just on the basis of being genetically related to the recipient of the kidney.
Here are some tips for kidney donors to monitor their own health and keep one’s remaining kidney healthy after donating a kidney. If you do all of these things, your remaining kidney should stay healthy.
- Don’t smoke, maintain a healthy body weight and eat a healthy diet. I am a strong advocate for the DASH diet and a diet that is low in salt. The 2000 milligram sodium DASH diet should be followed by all kidney donors. I also recommend increased physical activity for at least 150 minutes per week.
- Avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These include Advil®, Motrin®, Ibuprofen®, Aleve®, Naproxen®, and Toradol®. Aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol® and others) are safe to take.
- Get tested annually for kidney disease with blood and urine testing. You should have your blood creatinine tested and a calculation of your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) as well as urine testing for blood, protein and infection. Since kidney donors only have one kidney, the eGFR may be slightly low, but studies have shown that the eGFR should generally be in the range of 50 to 70 milliliters per minute per 1.73 meters squared. If the eGFR is less than 60 for greater than 3 months, this could qualify as chronic kidney disease (CKD) Stage 3, but I tell patients this is normal kidney function for a single kidney. Just to be sure, you should also have a urine test for Albuminuria-to-Creatinine ratio (ACR) each year to make sure your remaining kidney is normal.
- Get an annual physical for overall health. This includes a blood pressure check, blood glucose check to evaluate for diabetes and a total cholesterol check.
- Stay in touch with your recipient and tell them about your health. I find that it is important for physicians caring for kidney transplant recipients to ask about the health of the donor with most visits to my office. I also find that if you stay in touch with your recipient, you remind each other of the special bond that you both have and encourage each other to maintain good health. It also reinforces the warm feelings you have about helping your family member or your fellow man or woman. It helps you both.