Am I Healthy Enough to Be a Kidney Donor?

While the decision to donate is an important one, it’s only the first step. You’ll also need to meet certain kidney donor requirements.

Kidney donation is a potentially life-changing surgery. Your donation will give someone the chance to live a healthier life. But it could also have some impacts on your health if you have pre-existing conditions.

When you decide to donate a kidney, you’re committing to living with just one kidney for the rest of your life. Unlike living-donor liver transplant, where the donated portion of the liver grows back (regenerates), kidneys don’t regenerate.

Are you considering kidney donation, but are concerned about eligibility because of your health? Here’s what you need to know.

What Kidney Donor Requirements Must I Meet?

All living donors must meet certain kidney donation requirements. These requirements include:

  • Being between the ages of 18 and 75.
  • Not using drugs or other substances.
  • Being in good general health and have no history of:
    • Heart disease.
    • Liver disease, including cirrhosis and hepatitis B and C.
    • Diabetes.
    • HIV.
    • Cancers or other diseases that could complicate the surgery.

When you choose to donate a kidney, your transplant team will evaluate you to make sure you’re a suitable donor. Doctors will examine you as well as conduct a series of blood tests. You’ll also answer questions about:

  • Your decision to donate (including whether anyone is pressuring you to donate).
  • Your finances, work schedule, and whether you can take time off for needed testing, surgery, and healing.
  • Your support system, including family and friends who can help you.
  • Your mental health history.

Doctors will ask you about any medical conditions you have and any past health problems you’ve experienced. Some potential donors learn that they can’t donate a kidney because they have (or had) a medical condition that excludes them.

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Reasons You May Not Be Able to Donate a Kidney

If you have certain medical conditions, known as pre-existing conditions, you may not be able to donate a kidney. Doctors may tell you it isn’t safe for your health or that it may not be safe for someone to receive a kidney from you.

Conditions that might affect your eligibility to donate include having, or having a history of:

  • Cancer – You won’t be able to donate a kidney if you have cancer that is spreading, or you are in cancer treatment. Your body needs to fight the cancer. There’s also a small risk that transplanted tissue could contain cancer cells, making it dangerous for the recipient.

You may be able to donate if you had cancer a long time ago and have been free of cancer since treatment. Your transplant team will evaluate your ability to donate depending on the type of cancer you had and your current health. Each transplant center uses its own unique criteria to make these decisions.

  • Diabetes – Having diabetes puts you at risk for kidney disease and kidney damage. Diabetes elevates sugar levels in your blood, which can damage blood vessels in your kidneys. Because diabetes could damage your remaining kidney, doctors may advise against kidney donation.
  • Heart disease – Heart disease can cause problems with how your heart moves blood through your body, including to your kidneys. A lack of blood flow to your kidneys can cause kidney disease. Kidney donation may put your remaining kidney at risk of failing in the future.
  • High blood pressure – High blood pressure (hypertension) puts you at risk for both heart disease and kidney disease. A 2019 article in Transplantation Direct notes that some donors with high blood pressure experience declines in kidney function after donating. Researchers are still studying whether high blood pressure should keep someone from donating a kidney.
  • Liver disease – You’ll need to have good liver function to donate a kidney to someone else. If you have certain types of liver disease, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis B or C, you won’t be able to donate. If you have liver disease, your body may not be healthy enough to safely undergo surgery to remove a kidney.

Who Is Eligible to Donate a Kidney?

While some medical conditions may disqualify you from donating a kidney, the transplant team makes the final decision. Each transplant center uses its own criteria to determine living donor eligibility.

If you have pre-existing medical conditions, talk with your transplant center. The transplant team can answer your questions about whether donation may be possible for you.

Thinking of becoming a living-kidney donor? Visit our website for more information.

Sources

American Cancer Society, Can I Donate My Organs if I've Had Cancer?, Link.

American Kidney Fund, Heart Disease & Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), Link.

American Society of Nephrology, Kidney Transplantation in Patients with HIV, Link.

National Kidney Foundation, Diabetes and Kidney Disease, Link.

UPMC, Who Can Donate a Kidney?, Link.

Kidney International Reports, Hypertensive Living Kidney Donor Candidates: What's the Risk?, Link.

About Transplant Services

For more than four decades, UPMC Transplant Services has been a leader in organ transplantation. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, making UPMC one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and take on some of the most challenging cases. Through research, we have developed new therapies that provide our patients better outcomes — so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions. Above all, we are committed to providing compassionate, complete care that can change – and save – our patients’ lives. Visit our website to find a provider near you.