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Actress Sarah Hyland Puts Spotlight on Little-Known Kidney Condition

The “Modern Family” star announced she has undergone a second kidney transplant.

Sarah Hyland was born with a genetic disorder that affected her kidneys. Image via Disney/ABC

Actress Sarah Hyland is putting a spotlight on a little-known genetic disorder that led her to have two kidney transplants over the last six years.

The “Modern Family” star was born with kidney dysplasia and received her first kidney transplant from her father in 2012.

Kidney dysplasia is a relatively common genetic disorder that occurs when one or both of a baby’s kidneys do not develop properly in the womb.

It affects about one in 4,000 babies, and most are able to go on and live completely normal, healthy lives, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

However, in more extreme cases, some people may experience kidney failure and eventually need dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive. This was the case for the 28-year-old actress.

“We did all of these tests and all of these treatments to try and save the kidney,” Hyland told SELF. “Christmas break, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, my birthday, all of that spent in the hospital.”

She underwent a second transplant in the fall of 2017 with a kidney donated from her brother.

When your kidneys fail, your body can’t get rid of waste and fluids

With kidney dysplasia, urine collects inside the abnormal kidneys in fluid-filled sacs called cysts. Over time, most cysts shrink or go away on their own.

However, in more serious cases, those cysts can prevent the kidneys from doing their job. When this happens — and your kidneys are no longer able to filter out waste and fluids — your body will fill up with toxins, which could lead to kidney failure.

During kidney failure, approximately 85 to 90 percent of your kidney function is gone, the National Kidney Foundation reported.

According to Dr. Todd Pesavento, the kidney and pancreas transplantation medical director of the Comprehensive Transplant Center at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, kidney dysplasia isn’t the only cause of kidney failure.

Diabetes, hypertension, and other genetic conditions — like polycystic kidney disease and Alport syndrome — and lupus are known to cause kidney failure as well.

“Symptoms of renal failure include fatigue, poor appetite, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, nausea — most people say they feel like they have a cold,” Pesavento explained.

In addition, you may experience abdominal pain, back pain, a rash, or nosebleeds, according to the American Kidney Fund.

“If the toxins or fluid build up to a certain degree it can affect the patient’s heart, ability to think clearly, result in severe hypertension, shortness of breath — or pulmonary edema — [and] malnutrition,” he added.

What the kidneys do

Most of us are born with two kidneys: the bean-shaped organs located below the ribcage on each side of the spine.

These organs play a vital role in keeping our blood clean and helping our bodies function properly.

“The primary function of the kidney is to filter the blood of impurities or toxins. They also remove the excess fluid we drink,” Pesavento said. “Additionally, they produce hormones that are important in maintaining blood pressure.”

Each day, our kidneys filter about 200 quarts of fluid in our bloodstream. Of that, approximately two quarts — composed of waste and excess fluid — are removed from the body in the form of urine.

When transplants can help

If your kidney fails, you’ll need either dialysis — a procedure in which a machine filters and purifies your blood — or a kidney transplant — an operation that swaps out your damaged kidney for a healthy one.

Dialysis is not a cure-all, as the procedure cannot do everything that healthy kidneys do. As a result, even if you do dialysis, you may still run into health problems associated with kidney failure — such as anemia, bone disease, heart disease, high potassium, and fluid buildup.

Kidney transplant surgery is considered to be the best way to treat kidney failure, according to the American Kidney Fund.

“Kidney transplant is the preferred option for kidney replacement therapy in people with kidney failure. Generally speaking, people who receive a kidney transplant live longer than people who are treated with dialysis,” Dr. Silas Norman, a nephrologist at the University of Michigan and member of the board of trustees of the American Kidney Fund, told Healthline.

In general, kidney replacements are very safe and most patients recover fully within 4 to 12 weeks.

However, there is a chance the body could reject the transplant, as Hyland’s did with her father’s donated kidney.

“Our bodies are very good at recognizing things that don’t belong in our body, including a kidney transplant. To prevent the body from trying to reject the kidney, people have to take medications lifelong called immunosuppression,” Norman explained.

It’s extremely important for patients to take these medications and get their labs done consistently to prevent rejection. Unfortunately, some patients may experience harmful side effects from these transplant medications, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, new diabetes, and an increased risk of infections, Norman said.

When it comes to choosing a treatment, it’s best to consult a healthcare provider who can help you understand your options and figure out what will work best for you and your family.

While there is no perfect cure for a damaged kidney, the right treatment could give those with kidney failure a second shot at a happy, healthy life.

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