Living healthy after a transplant

Mom and daughter reading a book
Learn how to live healthy and resume normal activities after a transplant including which foods to eat, exercising, and preventing infection.
Medically reviewed by
AKF's Medical Advisory Committee
Last updated
March 18, 2022

How long will my kidney transplant last?

On average, kidney transplants last for 10-20 years:

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

Watch our webinar to learn more about adjusting to life after a kidney transplant.

How can I follow a healthy meal plan after a transplant?

If you were on dialysis before your transplant, you will notice a difference in what you can eat and drink after your transplant. You will have fewer limits with what you can eat but eating healthy still plays a big role. For example, it can help you keep a healthy weight and lower your chance of other health problems, such as high blood pressure. In general, you should:

  • Follow a low-salt and low-fat meal plan
  • Drink plenty of water and non-sugary fluids – this is usually about two liters (68 ounces) per day
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine
  • Avoid grapefruit or grapefruit juice, starfruit and pomegranate or pomegranate juice
  • Avoid foods that are spoiled, moldy, or past their "use by" date to lower your chance of food poisoning and infections

Ask your dietitian to help you make a healthy eating plan that will work for you and your new kidney.

Chicken Picadillo

Find delicious kidney-friendly recipes

Learn what healthy eating means for people in every stage of kidney disease, including those on dialysis or living with a kidney transplant.

What types of exercise can I do?

Once you recover from transplant surgery, you should try to be active five or more days per week. Being active can help your overall health, help you keep a healthy weight and even boost your mood.

Talk to your transplant team about the types of exercise that are right for you, how often you should exercise and for how long. Try to choose activities that you enjoy so you are more likely to continue doing them. Examples include walking, riding a bike, swimming, playing sports, gardening and hiking.

How can I avoid getting infections?

The immunosuppressant medicines that prevent your body from rejecting your new kidney also lower your immune system. This can make infections a problem.

To avoid getting infections, you should:

  • Wash your hands often: 
    • Before you eat anything (even a snack!)
    • After every time you go to the bathroom
    • Every time you come home after leaving your house
  • Avoid being around people who you know are sick. 
  • Avoid close contact with people who recently got a live vaccine, such as children who got measles or mumps vaccines or people who got the nasal flu vaccine. Live vaccines contain a weak form of the actual virus, and the virus could spread from the vaccinated person to others within two weeks after a person gets the vaccine. 
  • Use food safety practices, such as cooking meat to the correct temperature, avoiding eating from buffets or cafeteria settings and tossing food that is spoiled, moldy or past its "use by" date.
  • Talk to your transplant team before you travel to another country. They will help you get medicines and vaccines to prevent diseases common in that country and share tips to lower your chance of getting infections based on where you are traveling to. For example, tap water in many countries may have bacteria, which means you should drink bottled water instead.
  • Take steps to lower your chance of infection if you are getting a permanent tattoo, such as waiting six months after your transplant and using a licensed tattoo parlor and artist.

Are vaccines (shots) safe after a kidney transplant?

Vaccines can help your body protect you from infection, however some vaccines are not good for you when you have a transplant. Talk to your transplant team before getting any vaccines or booster shots.

You should:

  • Avoid all live vaccines, such as for chickenpox (varicella zoster). Live vaccines contain a weak form of the actual virus and can make copies in your body that could lead to infection due your lowered immune system.
  • Wait 3-6 months after your transplant before getting a flu shot, then get only a yearly shot, and avoid the nasal flu vaccine (which is a live vaccine).

In general, it is safe to get these vaccines:

  • COVID-19
  • Diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus
  • Flu 
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Inactivated polio
  • Pneumovax
  • Shingles

How do I take care of my surgery site (incision)?

A scar is the tissue that your body forms during the healing process. Your body begins to heal your incision right after surgery, but it can take up to two years to fully heal. To help your scar heal, you can:

  • Do a scar massage every day for six months – use the pad of your thumb and rub your scar and skin around it in a circle motion
  • Apply lotion to your scar so it does not get dry
  • Apply sunscreen – your scar is thinner than the rest of your skin and will sunburn more easily

What about sex and pregnancy after a transplant?

Most sexual function and fertility (ability to have a baby) returns after a transplant, if your kidney disease or dialysis had caused a problem. 

If you have had a kidney transplant, you may have more regular menstrual periods, which means you may be more likely to get pregnant. It is important to use some type of birth control to avoid getting pregnant for at least one year after your transplant. 

You and your partner should talk to your transplant team about safe sex, birth control and pregnancy.