For many people, getting a kidney transplant can feel like getting another chance at life. There are many great things that come with getting a kidney transplant, like having more time in the day and more freedom. There are also many things you should consider in your life after transplant that involve taking care of your new kidney.
Diet and exercise
If you were on dialysis before your transplant, you will notice a difference in what you can eat and drink once you have your new kidney. You will still need to eat foods low in salt and fat to prevent high blood pressure, and if you have diabetes, you will still need to watch your blood sugar. Ask your dietitian to help you make a healthy eating plan that will work for you and your new kidney.
Once you have recovered from the transplant surgery, you may be able to start a new exercise routine. Exercise can help improve your heart and lung health, prevent weight gain and even improve your mood. Talk to your doctor about the types of exercise that are right for you, how often you should exercise and for how long.
One risk of a kidney transplant is that your body will reject (fight) the new kidney. This can happen if your body’s immune system realizes that the kidney is from someone else. To prevent this from happening, you must take medicines to weaken your immune system. These medicines are called immunosuppressants, or anti-rejection medicines.
You should take your immunosuppressants and other medicines exactly the way your doctor tells you to. If you miss taking your medicine even one time, you could risk losing your new kidney. If you ever miss taking your medicine, call your doctor right away. Anti-rejection medicines also come with risks and side effects.
One of the biggest side effects of immunosuppressants is infection. You are more at risk for getting infections because the immunosuppressants decrease the strength of your immune system. Another common side effect of immunosuppressants is stomach upset. Talk to your doctor about your side effects, and you may be able to change the amount of the medicine that you take, or switch to a different medicine if needed.
Even though they cause side effects, immunosuppressants are very necessary drugs. They are responsible for keeping your new kidney healthy and working.
Anxiety, depression and mental health
Getting a transplant is usually an exciting event, but because it is also a major life change, it’s normal to have all kinds of emotions afterward. If you’re experiencing feelings of anxiety, depression or guilt, please know that you are not alone; many transplant patients experience these feelings at first, for many reasons.
- Mood changes may be a side effect of the immunosuppressant medicines you are taking.
- You may feel stressed or anxious about your new lifestyle.
- You may feel guilty about getting a kidney from a living or deceased donor.
- If you have been on dialysis for a long time, you may feel guilty about leaving other dialysis patients ‘behind’ once you get your transplant.
- Your family members may also have emotional changes as they adjust to your new lifestyle.
You do not have to deal with these feelings alone. Getting a kidney transplant is a major life change, and it is normal to feel stressed and anxious about big life changes.
Reach out to your family and friends for support. Also, let your transplant team know about your emotional changes so they can help support you and adjust your medicines if needed. Your transplant team can also refer you to a mental health specialist.
Though kidney transplants are often successful, there are some cases when they are not. It is possible that your body may refuse to accept the donated kidney shortly after it is placed in your body. It is also possible your new kidney may stop working overtime.
Having a new kidney is a major change for your body. Your immune system , which protects your body from germs and harmful cells, recognizes your new kidney as a foreign tissue, and may try to reject it. To help prevent your new kidney from being rejected, your doctor will give you immunosuppressants, which are medicines that decrease your immune response so your body is less likely to reject your new kidney. Immunosuppressants are also sometimes called anti-rejection medicines.
Types of kidney rejection that may happen after your transplant.
- Acute rejection will usually happen within the first three to six months after your kidney transplant. Many kidney transplant patients have some acute rejection episodes, which means their body shows signs that it is fighting the new kidney. Less than 1 in 20 transplant patients have an acute rejection episode that leads to complete failure of their new kidney.
- Chronic rejection happens more often and occurs slowly over the years after your kidney transplant. Over time, your new kidney may stop working because your immune system will constantly fight it.
If you are told by your doctor or healthcare team that you are having a rejection incident or episode, it does not mean your new kidney is not working or your new kidney will be completely rejected. Changing the amount of your immunosuppressant medicine can usually treat this problem. This is why it is so important to take your immunosuppressant medicine exactly the way your doctor tells you.
Signs and symptoms of kidney rejection
- Feeling like you have the flu: body aches, chills, headache and more
- Fever of 101° F or higher
- Urinating less than usual
- Very high blood pressure
- Sudden weight gain
- Ankle swelling
- Pain or tenderness over the area where your transplant was done
- Feeling very tired
If you notice that you suddenly are not feeling well, contact your doctor or transplant team right away.
Returning to work
If you are planning on going back to work, your transplant team may advise you to wait three to six weeks after your surgery. You may be given limits on what you can do at work at least in the beginning (for example you should not lift objects that weigh more than 10 pounds). If you need to find a new job, ask your social worker to connect you with a career counselor.
Now that you feel better and have more energy after your transplant, you may want to take a trip! Your transplant team may ask that you wait 2 to 3 months before taking a major trip. Talk to your doctor about anything you should consider before traveling, for example, getting enough refills on your immunosuppressants to make it through the whole vacation.
If you are traveling outside of the United States, talk to your transplant team about vaccines or shots you will need, foods you should stay away from, and the safety of drinking water. Your doctor may suggest you wait 6 to 12 months before traveling abroad.
You can start driving 2 to 4 weeks after your transplant. The reason for the delay is that some of the medicines you have to take right after transplant can cause tremors and vision changes. When you start driving again, it may be smart to have someone ride with you.
After having a kidney transplant, your transplant team may ask that you not have sex for 4 to 6 weeks after your transplant, or until the place of your surgery is completely healed.
For women who had a kidney transplant, you may now find that your menstrual periods are more regular, and as part of this you may be more likely to become pregnant. Your doctor will tell you to avoid getting pregnant until one year after your transplant. Ask about what birth control method would work best with your new kidney.
Keeping your new kidney healthy
To keep yourself healthy, and to make sure your new kidney works well, the following are extremely important:
- Take your immunosuppressants and other medicines exactly how your doctor told you.
- Know the signs of infection or possible kidney rejection, then contact your transplant team right away if this ever happens.
- Avoid being around people who are sick.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Eat foods low in salt, fat, and cholesterol.
- After you are cleared by your doctor, start an exercise routine such as walking, or biking.