Nephrectomy (Kidney Removal)

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In a radical nephrectomy, your doctor removes the entire kidney. In a partial nephrectomy, your doctor only removes a piece of the kidney.

You may need kidney removal because of:

  • Birth defects
  • Injuries to the kidney
  • Infection
  • Tumor
  • Kidney donation for a transplant

Nephrectomy Procedure

Traditional Surgery

General anesthesia prevents pain during the procedure. Your doctor makes an incision in your abdomen and inserts a catheter. Your doctor may need to remove a rib to access the kidney.

The tube from the kidney to the bladder is called the ureter. If the entire kidney is being removed, your doctor will cut the ureter and blood vessels. Your doctor will remove the kidney or part of the kidney and close your incision.

Laparoscopic Surgery

Your doctor inflates your abdominal cavity with gas and makes several keyhole incisions in the area. Your doctor inserts a laparoscope, a long tool with a camera on the end, through one of the holes to see inside you. Next, your doctor inserts tools through the other holes to perform the surgery. The same steps are taken to detach the kidney. 

The procedure takes between 2-4 hours. A typical hospital stay after a nephrectomy is 2-7 days. The exact length depends on the type of surgery. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if complications occur.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

You'll receive IV fluids and pain medication after surgery. Your care team will monitor your blood pressure, electrolytes and fluid balance. You may need a urinary catheter for a short time following surgery.

At Home

Avoid difficult exercise or activities for about six weeks. Ask your doctor about when it's safe to shower, bathe or soak in water.

You may need hemodialysis or a kidney transplant if your doctor removes both kidneys.

Nephrectomy Complications

Your doctor will review a list of possible short-term complications, which may include:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Damage to nearby organs
  • Reactions to the anesthesia
  • Leakage of urine from the remaining kidney tissue, if only part of the kidney is removed

Long-term complications from decreased kidney function may include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic kidney disease

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Smoking
  • Prior kidney surgery
  • Obesity
  • Alcoholism
  • Poor nutrition

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.