Life after transplant: Rejection prevention and healthy tips
Getting a kidney transplant can feel like having another chance at life. Learn about life after your transplant, including recovery steps, anti-rejection medicines, mental health, and other healthy living tips.
Recovery after transplant surgery
Recovery after kidney transplant surgery can be different for every person. In general, this is what to expect.
You will recover in the hospital for 3-4 days after surgery. Your transplant team will closely watch your recovery while you are in the hospital. It is common to feel some discomfort in the first week after surgery. Your belly area and side may be sore, and you may also feel weak and tired while you are healing. Usually, it is best to get up and start slowly moving around one day after surgery.
Your new kidney may start working right away, and you will have more energy. If your new kidney takes a few days to start working, you will need dialysis for a short time until it starts working.
Immunosuppressant (anti-rejection) medicines
Immunosuppressant, or anti-rejection, medicines prevent your body from rejecting (fighting) the new kidney. This can happen if your body's immune system realizes that the kidney is from someone else. Immunosuppressant medicines lower (suppress) your immune system to weaken its response to fight your new kidney.
There are three types of immunosuppressant medicines:
- Induction immunosuppressants: Strong medicines used before or right after transplant surgery to prevent your body from rejecting your new kidney right away
- Maintenance immunosuppressants: Medicines you will take daily for the rest of your life (or for as long as your new kidney lasts) to prevent your body from rejecting your kidney long-term
- Rejection immunosuppressants: Medicines used if your body starts rejecting your new kidney
Kidney rejection after transplant
Kidney Rejection is your body's response to the transplanted kidney's foreign proteins. Rejection happens when your immune system, which protects your body from germs and foreign proteins, tries to fight your new kidney. Immunosuppressant medicines help keep your body from fighting your new kidney and rejecting it. This is why you take immunosuppressant medicines every day exactly the way your doctor has prescribed.
There are two types of kidney rejection that can happen after transplant:
- Acute rejection usually happens soon in the months after a transplant. Out of 100 people who get a transplant, 5-20 people will have an acute rejection episode and less than five people will have an acute rejection episode that leads to complete failure of their new kidney.
- Chronic rejection happens slowly over the years after a transplant. It means your new kidney may stop working over time because your body's immune system is constantly fighting it. Chronic rejection happens to kidney recipients more often than acute rejection.
Living healthy after a transplant
On average, kidney transplants last for 10-20 years:
- Living kidney donor transplants last 15-20 years, on average
- Deceased kidney donor transplants last 10-15 years, on average
How long your kidney will last depends on many factors. The most important is how well you take care of it!
To keep your new kidney and stay healthy, you will need to take steps to:
- Follow a healthy meal plan
- Be active
- Avoid getting infections
- Care for your scar
- Care for your sexual and reproductive health
Mental health and support after transplant
Getting a transplant is an exciting event! Because it is also a major life change, it is normal to feel all kinds of emotions after a transplant, such as:
- Happiness and gratitude for the gift of donation. You may even want to thank your living donor or deceased donor's family, such as by writing a letter or email, having a phone call or meeting in person. Ask your transplant center for help to arrange this.
- Feeling overwhelmed by all the changes after your transplant, including how to care for your new kidney.
- Stress or anxiety about the costs of medicines or insurance.
- Frustration, depression or anger if the new kidney is not working well.
- Guilt about getting a kidney from a living or deceased donor.
- If you have any of these feelings, know that you are not alone. Many transplant recipients have these feelings at first, for many reasons. Sometimes, mood changes are even a side effect of immunosuppressant medicines.
If you have any of these feelings, know that you are not alone. Many transplant recipients have these feelings at first, for many reasons. Sometimes, mood changes are even a side effect of immunosuppressant medicines.
Other health issues after a transplant
Most people feel better and live longer after a transplant. But, some unwanted health problems can still happen, such as those caused by the medicines you need to take or underlying medical issues you have. Some health problems are less likely to happen and others are more common. You may have a higher chance of getting these health conditions:
Smoking cigarettes and using smokeless tobacco raises your risk for heart disease, cancer and lung disease. It can also shorten how long your new kidney will work.