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 the health conditions below.
After a transplant, you may develop diabetes (high blood sugar) because of the medicines that you need to take to prevent rejection. Certain immunosuppressant medicines and steroids prevent your body from using insulin normally, which leads to high blood sugar levels. Your chance of getting diabetes is higher if you are overweight or obese, or have a family history of diabetes.
Your health care team will do blood tests to closely watch your blood sugar levels after your transplant.
If you get diabetes or already have it, high blood sugar levels can cause serious damage to your heart, blood vessels, eyes, feet and nerves. It is important to take steps to prevent diabetes or control your blood sugar levels.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure means your heart is working too hard to pump your blood. Your chance of getting high blood pressure is higher after a transplant because of the medicines that you need to take to prevent rejection. Your chance of getting high blood pressure is higher if you are overweight or obese.
Your health care team will tell you how to check your blood pressure after your transplant. The goal after a transplant is a blood pressure reading of less than 130/80.
Your team will also help you control your blood pressure by:
- Keeping a healthy weight
- Eating less salt
- Taking blood pressure medicine, if your doctor prescribes it
If you get high blood pressure (or already have it), it can cause serious damage to your heart and blood vessels. So, it is important to take steps to prevent or control your high blood pressure.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer people get after a kidney transplant. Your chances of getting skin cancer are higher after a transplant because the medicines you need to take to prevent rejection lower your immune system, which is your body's defense against certain types of cancer. Your chance is higher if you have fair skin or have had skin cancer in the past.
Your transplant team may recommend that you see a dermatologist (skin doctor) every year to check your skin.
To prevent getting skin cancer, you should:
- Apply sunscreen before going outdoors
- Cover your skin, such as by wearing a lightweight long-sleeved shirt and a hat
- Check your skin for any new lumps, bumps or colored areas
- Stay in the shade to avoid direct sunlight
To learn more about skin cancer after a transplant, visit:
- International Immunosuppression & Transplant Skin Cancer Collaborative
- After Transplantation Reduce Incidence of Skin Cancer
Gout is a type of arthritis that causes severe pain, redness and swelling in the joints. High blood levels of uric acid (a normal waste product in blood) cause crystals to build up in the joints, which causes gout.
After a transplant, you may have higher levels of uric acid in your blood because of the medicines you need to take. Your doctor can do blood tests to check your level of uric acid.
To prevent gout or control it, your health team will work with you to:
- Keep a healthy weight
- Follow a healthy meal plan
Lupus is a long-term disease that can cause pain and inflammation (swelling) in any part of the body. When lupus affects and damages the kidneys, it is called lupus nephritis. It can keep the kidneys from working as well as they should or cause them to stop working.
If you have lupus and get a transplant, it is possible for your symptoms to come back and affect your new kidney. It is important to keep all your follow-up visits so your health care team can watch you closely.
To prevent lupus from damaging your new kidney, your health care team will work with you to:
- Take medicine to lower your blood pressure
- Take a diuretic, also called a water pill, which is a medicine that can help your body get rid of extra fluid
Other chronic diseases
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.
To help you quit smoking, you can ask your transplant team about:
- Medicine to help you quit
- Free programs to help you quit, such as smartphone apps and text message programs