What is kidney removal?

A nephrectomy is a major surgery to remove all or part of your 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.

A nephrectomy is done when:

Your doctor may remove your kidney through open surgery 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 is usually very good.

Removing part or all of a kidney is a very serious procedure, and doctors consider it a last resort to preserving your health.

Damaged kidney

You may need to have part or all of your kidney removed if isn’t functioning properly. Reasons for removal include damage or scarring. These may be due to disease, injury, or infection. Cancer is another reason to remove a kidney. If a kidney tumor is small and you catch it early, only part of your kidney may need to be removed.

Donating a kidney

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. You can be healthy with only one kidney.

There are several different types of nephrectomy.

Simple nephrectomy

A simple nephrectomy involves removing the entire kidney. Your surgeon will make a cut up to 12 inches long in your side. The surgeon will cut away your kidney’s blood vessels and its connections to your bladder. Your surgeon will then remove the entire organ. They may need to remove a rib to access your kidney.

Partial nephrectomy

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

Laparoscopic surgery

This technique, also called a keyhole surgery, can be used for either a simple or partial nephrectomy. Instead of one long incision, your surgeon will make a series of smaller incisions in your abdomen. They will insert a camera and other small instruments 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 reduced as well.

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

  • loss of blood
  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • allergic reaction to anesthesia or other medications
  • the formation of a blood clot in your legs that moves into your lungs, which is called a pulmonary embolism
  • breathing difficulties
  • infection at the surgical incision site

Other risks are specific to a nephrectomy. They include:

  • an injury to other organs or tissues around your kidney
  • a hernia in which organs might bulge out of your surgical incision

You may experience problems with the remaining kidney after surgery. This is partly because people who need kidney surgery may have an increased risk of other kidney diseases. These problems are less common in kidney donors.

Be sure to tell your doctor and surgeon if you might be pregnant. Also, inform them about all medications you’re 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 determine your blood type in case you need a transfusion during the procedure.

You will also need to fast and stop drinking liquids for a period before surgery.

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.

Your doctor will monitor the function of your remaining kidney. The outlook is typically very good in cases where one kidney remains.