Living with One Kidney

Individuals who have only one normal (solitary) kidney, either because they are born with one kidney or through an accident or disease (e.g. tumor, obstruction) frequently express concern as to the future effects of not having two of these organs. In fact, the long-term outlook is excellent. This prognosis is based on the following facts:

  • There are people born with a solitary kidney. In many cases, they will go through life and not know that they were born with a solitary kidney. There does not appear to be any appreciably higher incidence of kidney failure in patients born with only one normal kidney, or acquiring kidney failure as a result of the second kidney being removed. The classic example of the latter is the individual who donates a kidney for a kidney transplant. There is, however, some indication that individuals who donate a kidney for transplant and are left with a solitary kidney may have slightly higher blood pressure and a minimally increased amount of protein in their urine 10-15 years after the donation.

  • When a person is born with a solitary kidney, a nephrologist should be consulted during childhood in order to assess, on an ongoing basis, whether the solitary kidney is developing normally. Similarly, when a person has two kidneys but has one kidney removed because of damage inflicted to it, a nephrologist should be involved in case there may have been damage to the remaining kidney.

  • For the most part, nephrologists indicate that the activity of anyone with a solitary kidney need not be restricted, except for avoiding rigorous contact sports (e.g. tackle football, body checking in hockey). There are also no special precautions needed for child bearing. However, those individuals who have been kidney transplant recipients do need to exercise more caution in these situations and should consult their nephrologist for specific recommendations.

  • With regard to diet, if the solitary kidney is not completely normal, dietary advice should be sought from a nephrologist. No other special dietary precautions are required.


 With acknowledgement to Denis F. Geary, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Toronto, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario for his assistance in compiling this information.

© 2002



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