By Kaitlyn Schaeffer

Generally, transplantation is the last line of defense for treating a failing organ. This is not so with kidneys.

“A kidney transplant is not a last resort; it’s a first resort,” said nephrologist and kidney transplantation expert Emilio Poggio, MD. “For people who meet the requirements for kidney transplantation, it’s the best option for treatment.

Unfortunately, as with most other organs and tissues, demand for kidneys exceeds the current supply. This means that alternative methods of treatment for kidney disease, such as hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis, are much more common.

Dialysis performs the functions that healthy kidneys would ordinarily do  – they clean the body’s blood supply. Patients receiving dialysis come in three times a week for three to four hour sessions.

More than 10 percent of American adults (about 20 million people) have chronic kidney conditions. Of these, about 600,000 are currently receiving dialysis treatments and 100,000 are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. Even with these enormous numbers, only about 16,000 kidney transplants are performed each year.

Here are four facts kidney transplant specialists say you need to know.

1. Dialysis has both positives and negatives.

Patients who start dialysis often begin to feel better quickly; within a few months, they’ve regained their appetite and have more energy. However, such an intensive treatment process can have adverse effects on the patient’s autonomy and quality of life.

2. Benefits of transplant outweigh the side effects.

In a landmark study conducted in 1999, the health outcomes of patients receiving dialysis while waiting for a kidney were compared to those who had received a new kidney. Results showed that the long-term mortality rate of transplant recipients was 48 to 82 percent lower than for those on dialysis.

3. Not everyone can receive a transplant.

Doctors consider a number of factors when determining whether a patient is a good candidate for a kidney transplant. Conditions like diabetes and heart failure often negatively impact a patient’s candidacy; but there are also ways patients can improve their candidacy. “Stay healthy and active,” suggested Dr. Poggio. “Manage your conditions that might complicate a transplant – like smoking – and remain compliant with your medical therapies.”

4. Choose your care wisely.

Often a crucial factor affecting a patient’s quality of life is choosing the right care facility. Treatment should be easily accessible, and should be provided by healthcare workers who communicate well with a patient’s other doctors and who work to create a positive atmosphere. If you have kidney disease and are currently on dialysis, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about a kidney transplant. “If you’re in the right unit, you’ll get lots of support,” said Dr. Robert Heyka, Chair of Nephrology in the Department of Hypertension and Nephrology.

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