Do we really need two kidneys?

Do we really need two kidneys?

What do eyes, ears, testicles, ovaries and kidneys have in common?

These are our paired organs — biological structures people are generally born with two of. Perhaps you can understand the necessity for two eyes, ears and reproductive organs, but you may be wondering — do we actually need two kidneys?

The answer is no, according to Dr. Deepak Mital, a general surgeon at Advocate Health Care.

“The role of kidneys is to filter your body’s blood, removing waste and excess fluid. If you have one kidney, this role will still be fulfilled; the organ will grow over time and take over the function of both kidneys,” says Dr. Mital.

Some people are born with one kidney, known as renal agenesis. Others are born with two kidneys, but only one functions, referred to as kidney dysplasia.

Dr. Mital says a benefit of possessing two functioning kidneys is having a sort of reserve in case of accident or injury. But another benefit about having two is the option to donate.

Sixteen people die each day waiting for a transplant, according to the American Transplant Foundation. And nearly 100,000 Americans are waiting for a kidney transplant, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, with the average wait time for a transplant at about three years.

“More people would not have to wait if relatives would become living donors,” says Dr. Mital.

He says that patients fare better, and their kidneys last twice as long, if they have transplants from living donors rather than from deceased people.

“A kidney can be donated at nearly any age, as long as you are over 18. Factors that can inhibit a person from donating a kidney are high blood pressure, diabetes, a BMI of 30+ or any communicable diseases such as HIV,” says Dr. Mital. “Generally speaking, though, organ donation is something that healthy individuals of any age can do.”

Dr. Mital encourages everyone to consider organ donation by checking “yes” on their driver’s license or state identification cards.

“That will save a lot of lives on the waiting list,” he says.

Are you trying to find a doctor? Look here if you live in Illinois. Look here if you live in Wisconsin. 

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  1. Living organ donation is a wonderful thing. I received a kidney from my cousin 10 years ago this past June and because of her I have a full and active life. I am so grateful and appreciate this gift each and every day!!

  2. Kent C. Talamo July 17, 2020 at 11:26 am · Reply

    Four years ago my life was saved with a heart transplant at Advocate Christ in Oak Lawn. It was a blessing and a miracle and I think the donor’s family each and every day for this gift.

  3. I love this article! I‘m recovering at the hospital right now after donating my kidney to my husband. Even though we are not blood type compatible, he went through a desensitization process so that I could give directly to him.

  4. This was great to read. I donated my kidney 20 years ago, almost 21 to my husband. We are both doing amazing!!! If I could do it again.. I would!!!

  5. Wonderful read. I donated my kidney to my sister April 22 years ago. We are both doing amazing. I am so grateful I was able to donate and would not have a changed my decision. In-fact, decisions are hard for me but this was one of the easiest to make.

  6. Michelle Schuerman July 14, 2021 at 12:16 pm · Reply

    I am a living donor (7 years on 8/6) and appreciate the facts in this article and the clinical due diligence and research done by our health systems and Organ Procurement Organizations. Their commitment supports the health and safety of both the recipient and living donor.

  7. Lenora Salazar July 14, 2021 at 12:28 pm · Reply

    As a former kidney donor 2-1/2 years ago (and patient of Dr. Mital) I would absolutely encourage anyone inclined to donate- DO IT! If I had another spare I would share again in a minute 😀

  8. Here’s a takeaway partial quote from Dr. Mital I don’t recall being emphasized in previous articles about kidney donation. “If you have one kidney, this role (of filtering waste) will still be fulfilled; the organ will grow over time and take over the function of both kidneys…”

    If potential donors fully understood that, post donation, their remaining kidney grows to fulfill the essential function of waste filtration, chances are there would be less kidney donation hesitancy.

  9. Actually reading these comments has given me some relief in my anxiety over my daughter being a Living Donor in October. I am a nurse and I know you can live a normal life with only 1 kidney and hearing so many positive responses that so many individuals have had no issues post donation gives me a tiny bit of peace.

  10. My partner recently got diagnosed with kidney failure in December of 2021 at the age of 23 years old. He has been on hemodialysis and now peritoneal dialysis since then, and has been resilient in not letting this diagnosis get to him, even through this struggle. He is still actively looking for a kidney donor, and I saw this article and thought it was a sign. I, myself, have signed up to be a donor, but any healthy individual can to, like Dr. Mitra stated. If anyone is interested in donating or learning about it, please check out the Facebook page, A Kidney for Eric @AKidneyforEric

    thank you 🙂

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.