Kidney Removal

Written by Mary Ellen Ellis | Published on June 29, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Kidney Removal Surgery?

Kidney removal surgery is also called nephrectomy. It is a major surgery that is used to remove all or part of a kidney. The kidneys are two small, bean-shaped organs in the abdomen. They filter water and waste products from your blood. They also produce certain hormones.

Reasons for kidney removal may include:

  • a damaged kidney
  • a kidney that is no longer functioning properly
  • cancer in the kidney
  • donating your kidney

Surgery can be performed traditionally or laparoscopically. Laparoscopic surgery involves smaller incisions and has a faster recovery time. Recovering from a nephrectomy can take several weeks. It may be very painful. As with any surgery, complications such as infections are possible. However, the outlook for most patients is very good.

Reasons for Kidney Removal

Having part or all of a kidney removed is a very serious procedure. It is only performed when necessary for the health of the patient.

Damaged Kidney

If your kidney is not functioning properly, you may need to have part or all of it removed. Reasons for removal include damage or scarring. These may be caused by disease, injury, or infection. Cancer is another reason to remove a kidney. If a kidney tumor is small and is caught early, only part of the kidney may need to be removed.

Donations

Sometimes, a person will donate their healthy kidney to someone who needs a new kidney. Kidney transplants are more successful with kidneys from living donors than deceased donors are, and you can be healthy with only one kidney.

Types of Kidney Removal Surgery

There are several different types of nephrectomy.

Simple Nephrectomy

A simple nephrectomy removes the entire kidney. The surgeon will make a cut up to twelve inches long in your side. The kidney’s blood vessels and connections to the bladder will be cut away. Then the entire organ will be removed. A rib may need to be removed so the doctor can access your kidney.

Partial Nephrectomy

This procedure removes only a portion of your kidney. The procedure is very similar to a simple nephrectomy. However, the surgeon may be able to use a smaller incision.

Laparoscopic Surgery

This technique can be used to perform either simple or partial nephrectomy. Instead of one long incision, the surgeon will make a series of smaller incisions in your abdomen. A camera and other small instruments will be inserted through the incisions. This will allow the surgeon to see inside you and remove your kidney. This type of surgery is usually less painful than open surgery. Recovery time is shorter as well.

The Benefits of Kidney Removal

Kidney removal can be used to treat cancer or other kidney diseases. This can improve symptoms caused by the damaged organ. It may also prevent the spread of kidney cancer to other organs.

Damaged kidneys have a high risk of infection. Removing a damaged kidney can keep you healthier.

Donating a kidney can save someone’s life.

The Risks of Kidney Removal

There are risks associated with any major surgery. Complications are rare, but include:

  • loss of blood
  • heart attack or stroke
  • allergic reactions to anesthesia or other medications
  • blood clots forming in the legs and moving into the lungs (pulmonary embolism)
  • breathing difficulties
  • infection at the surgical incision site

Other risks specific to nephrectomy are:

  • injury to other organs or tissues around the kidney
  • problems with the remaining kidney after surgery. This is partially because people who need kidney surgery may be at higher risk of other kidney disease. These problems are less common in kidney donors.
  • hernia (organs bulge out of the surgical incision)

How to Prepare for Kidney Removal

Be sure to tell your doctor and surgeon if you might be pregnant. Also, inform them about all medications you are taking, including those that are over-the-counter. You may need to stop taking certain medications before the surgery, especially blood thinners.

Several days before the surgery, your doctor will draw blood. This will be used to determine your blood type in case you need a transfusion during the procedure.

You will also be asked to fast and to stop drinking liquids for a certain period before surgery.

Outlook for Kidney Removal

Recovery after surgery should take between three and six weeks. You may need to stay in the hospital for up to seven days. Your doctor or surgeon will discuss the success of the surgery and any follow-up treatments you may need.

The function of your remaining kidney will be monitored. When just one kidney is removed, the outlook is typically very good.

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