Can you live with just one kidney?

September 9, 2022

I recently saw a patient who just found out that she just has one kidney after getting an ultrasound of the abdomen. This is known as a solitary kidney and most people with just one kidney can live healthy, normal lives.

YES, you can live with one kidney.

There are four main causes of a solitary kidney:

1. Birth defects. Some people can be born with only one kidney, or with two kidneys, but only one functions properly.

2. Surgical removal of a kidney. A kidney may be removed due to severe trauma after an accident, a tumor or cancer, kidney stones, or a severe infection.

3. Kidney donation. Persons who donate a kidney to be transplanted into a family member or friend whose kidneys have failed should have two healthy kidneys.

REGULAR check-ups to have your kidney function monitored is recommended.

4. Kidney transplant recipients. Recipients of the kidney transplant have native kidneys that do not work properly and will have only one functioning kidney after the transplant.

A solitary kidney may be able to compensate and increase function as well as two healthy kidneys, like having one person doing the job of two people. However, injury to a solitary kidney can cause kidney failure to happen more quickly, making treatment more urgent and needing closer monitoring.

Individuals with one kidney may have a slightly increased risk of developing high blood pressure. This can damage blood vessels in the kidneys, reducing their ability to work correctly. You should have your blood pressure monitored at least twice a year. If high blood pressure is present, it should be controlled to less than 130/80 mmHg.

While physical exercise is healthy and good for you, it is important for someone with only one kidney to be careful and to protect it from injury. It is best to avoid contact sports like basketball, martial arts, boxing, and soccer. Wearing protective gear such as padded vests can help protect the kidney from injury during sports. This can help lessen the risk, but remember that it won’t take away the risk.

Other steps to take care of a solitary kidney include a healthy diet and to maintain an acceptable weight. Don’t smoke or drink alcohol excessively. Bladder and kidney infections should be recognized quickly and treated effectively.  Get regular check-ups and have your kidney function monitored with blood and urine testing at least once a year.

Yes, you can live with one kidney. Together with the guidance of your physician, you and your solitary kidney can remain in good health.

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