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Life With Only One Kidney

Posted by Reliant Renal Care

Your kidneys are responsible for eliminating the food and water that becomes waste products, controlling your blood pressure, the amount of blood you produce, balancing calcium, potassium, and several chemicals in your body, as well as supporting bone health.

Why Might You Only Have One Kidney?

Kidneys perform a variety of functions that are important in keeping your body in good health; however, it is not unusual for a person to have only one kidney. In this case, the one kidney must take on the responsibility two kidneys usually undertake.

A person might only have one kidney for multiple reasons including:

  1. A person is born with only one kidney.
    1. This is more common that you might expect. About one in 750 people are born with only one kidney, a condition referred to as renal agenesis.
  2. A kidney has been removed as a result of health problems.
    1. The surgical removal of a kidney, nephrectomy, may be necessary if a kidney has been damaged by cancer, a disease, or injured in some sort of accident.
  3. A person donates a kidney.
    1. Annually, thousands of people choose to donate one of their kidneys to someone in desperate need of a healthy one.  

Can One Healthy Kidney Function As Well As Two?

In general, people born with a single kidney experience few problems; however, evidence of some long-term health problems have been recorded.

For those born with a single kidney, or had to have a kidney removed during childhood, there is a chance of them experiencing a loss in kidney function down the line, 25 or more years later. They may also experience high blood pressure later in life. Fortunately, the loss in kidney function is typically very mild, and their lifespan is normal. Most people with only one kidney lead normal, healthy lives with few issues.

In other words, one healthy kidney can function as well as two kidneys.

How often should a person with one kidney see the doctor?

Those with one kidney should have their kidney function checked at least once a year. The testing is simple. Your healthcare provider will check your kidney function with a urine test and blood test. You should have you blood pressure checked annually as well.

Participating In Sports

Physical exercise is healthy and good for your body. Having one kidney should not hold you back from participating in non-contact sports such as volleyball, track, swimming, and basketball. Because it is important for someone with only one kidney to be careful and protect it from injury, doctors typically suggest avoiding contact sports like football, boxing, hockey, or soccer.

For those wishing to continue or start playing contact sports, there are some protective gear available such as padded vests, which aid in protecting your kidney. Be sure to discuss with your doctor before participating in any collision sports.

Will I need to follow a special diet?

Generally, people with one healthy kidney do not require a special diet; however, those with a transplanted kidney as a result of kidney disease or kidney failure, may have some restrictions. It’s typically suggested that you maintain a healthy well-balanced diet, reduce your salt intake, and aim to drink a minimum of two liters of water daily. Be sure to discuss your diet with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian.

What happens if the kidney starts to fail?

In situations where your kidney begins to fail, symptoms may include:

  • Swelling in the face and/or ankles
  • Changes in urine frequency/color or a foamy appearance
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Changes in the taste of food
  • Numbness in the fingers or toes
  • Fatigue or exhaustion

These symptoms indicate an urgent situation and a doctor should be seen immediately. If kidney function is failing and a person develops end stage renal disease (ESRD), there are two options: dialysis and kidney transplant. Reliant Renal Care offers many types of dialysis to choose from for patients in this situation. Our team will discuss your treatment options, which includes in-center hemodialysis, Home ChoiceTM dialysis, or our skilled nursing facility dialysis program to find the most fitting solution for your lifestyle.  


Many people with only one kidney can and do essentially live the same as those with two. The remaining kidney is often able to compensate for its missing counterpart. As long as such people eat sensibly, get plenty of exercise, monitor their blood pressure and receive regular checkups, they can expect to live a healthy life with only one kidney. Should the lone kidney ever experience problems or stop functioning altogether, treatment options are available. Call Reliant Renal Care if you have any further questions or would like more information on our dialysis programs!