It is devastating news to learn that a kidney transplant is necessary to sustain any type of normal functions in the body. The kidneys are responsible for removing impurities in the blood, excreting them in urine. Without them, the body can poison itself, causing injury to other organs, coma, or even death. Dialysis is commonly used for people with some kidney function in order to optimize the “cleaning” of the blood, but it does not always provide the optimal solution. Having a new, fully-functioning kidney may prevent the need for routine, sometimes daily dialysis.
However, a kidney transplant has risks, as does any major surgery. A patient, or their representative, is informed of the risks and benefits before the surgery is performed so that an informed decision for the transplant can be made. Along with the usual risks, such as a reaction to anesthetics, uncontrolled bleeding or unforeseen clotting and blood flow complications, the physician is obligated to warn the patient or representative of the current health factors that may affect the body’s rejection or acceptance of the new kidney. One factor that some fail to see is the presence of narrowing of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. This condition affects the flow of blood to the limbs as well as the major organs in the body, slowing a healing process in case of any damage or surgical intervention in some conditions.
Atherosclerosis can be caused by plaque buildup in the arteries, due to high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, atrophy (wasting) of the muscles, or simple aging. Steps can be taken to prevent the condition, but patient with extreme kidney conditions sometimes are unable to follow the regimens for prevention. Some become bed-ridden, preventing certain types of exercise, and medications to prevent atherosclerosis can often contribute to kidney conditions as well as liver function, putting more of a burden on already damaged kidneys. Conditions such as cancer, diabetes, prolonged high blood pressure, spleen removal and previous liver damage can also contribute to kidney shut-down. In the case of a kidney transplant, atherosclerosis has been shown to contribute to rejection of the new kidney.
Blood flow to the new kidney after surgery is a key in the healing process. If blood flow is restricted or becomes cut off entirely, the body’s immune system begins to attack the new kidney, thinking it is a foreign object or inflammatory trigger, causing the rejection. At this point, some medications available may help the body to accept the new kidney, but if symptoms and conditions continue, surgery to remove the new kidney is required, compromising the life of the recipient.
The lesson here is prevention in the narrowing of the arteries before any major health condition materializes, preventing conditions that may require more aggressive treatment and life-threatening surgeries, compromising the quality of life.