The risks associated with living-donor organ donation include both short- and long-term health risks of the surgical procedure, organ function, and psychological problems following organ donation.
For the organ recipient, the risk of transplant surgery is usually low because it is a potentially lifesaving procedure. But donating an organ can expose a healthy person to the risk of and recovery from unnecessary major surgery.
Immediate, surgery-related risks of organ donation include pain, infection, hernia, bleeding, blood clots, wound complications and, in rare cases, death.
Long-term follow-up information on living-organ donors is limited, and studies are ongoing. Overall, available data shows organ donors fare very well over the long term.
Donating an organ may also cause mental health issues, such as symptoms of anxiety and depression. The donated organ may fail in the recipient and cause feelings of regret, anger or resentment in the donor.
The known health risks associated with living-organ donation vary according to the type of donation. To minimize risks, you'll need to have extensive testing to ensure you're eligible to donate.
Kidney donation risks
Living-donor kidney transplant is the most widely studied type of living-organ donation with more than 50 years of follow-up information. Overall, studies show the life expectancy for those who have donated a kidney is the same as for similarly matched people who haven't.
Some studies suggest living kidney donors may have a slightly higher risk of kidney failure in the future. But this risk is still smaller than the average risk of kidney failure in the general population. Specific long-term complications associated with living-kidney donation include high blood pressure, elevated protein levels in urine and reduced kidney function.
Liver donation risks
The risks of living-liver donation also are low, but experience with this procedure is more limited because it was introduced into medical practice more recently than kidney donation. The first living-donor liver transplant was performed in 1989.
As with any surgical procedure, living-liver donation may involve surgical complications, such as infection, bleeding, blood clots and, in rare cases, death.
Living-liver donation may also cause bile leakage, narrowing of the bile duct, intra-abdominal bleeding and, in rare cases, inadequate growth of the remaining part of the liver.