Managing Your Health After an Organ Transplant

After an organ transplant, most patients quickly feel better. They go on to enjoy a significantly improved quality of life.

But they are also likely to face big health challenges.

Here are some tips for managing your health after an organ transplant.

Medications After a Transplant

After an organ transplant, you will need to take immunosuppressant (anti-rejection) drugs. These drugs help prevent your immune system from attacking ("rejecting") the new organ. Typically, they must be taken for the lifetime of your transplanted organ.

You will take other medications to help the anti-rejection drugs do their job or control their side effects. And you may need to take medications for other health conditions.

Organ rejection is a constant threat. Keeping the immune system from attacking your transplanted organ requires constant vigilance. So, it's likely that your transplant team will make adjustments to your anti-rejection drug regimen.

After your transplant, it's vital that you:

  • Keep all your doctor appointments
  • Undergo every recommended lab test
  • Take all your prescription drugs

It's also important to find a good pharmacist who can help you:

  • Understand your medications
  • Manage your medication schedule
  • Understand how the medicine works
  • Learn about side effects and interactions

Although rejection is a scary word, it doesn't necessarily mean that you will lose your new organ. Most of the time, a rejection can be reversed if your doctor detects its early signs.

The symptoms of rejection -- and the medical tests used to detect rejection -- vary by the type of your organ transplant. So, it's important to familiarize yourself with the early symptoms of rejection that are specific to your transplant.

If your doctor identifies a rejection, he or she will first try to reverse it by adjusting your medications. For example, you may need to:

  • Switch to a new drug
  • Add another drug
  • Take a larger or smaller dose of your medications

During the first few months after an organ transplant, your transplant team will see you frequently to assess the function of your new organ. Your doctor will help you develop good health habits to keep your body as healthy as possible.

The transplant team also will urge you to:

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Medication Side Effects

After an organ transplant, you may experience short-term medication side effects such as:

These side effects may let up as your initial high dose of medication is tapered down.

You also may experience other side effects such as:

If you notice any side effects, don't stop taking the drugs on your own. First, let your doctor know. He or she can adjust your prescriptions to minimize side effects without increasing your risk of organ rejection.

Self-Monitoring at Home

In addition to the tests that you undergo at regular follow-up visits, you will need to do some self-monitoring at home. Among the things you'll need to monitor are:

Weight. Weigh yourself daily at the same time, preferably in the morning. Call your doctor if you gain 2 pounds in a day or more than 5 pounds total.

Temperature. Take your temperature daily. Call your doctor if your temperature is too high.

Blood pressure. Check your blood pressure as recommended by your doctor.

Pulse. Check your pulse daily. Call your doctor if it's higher than the normal resting heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. (If you've had a heart transplant, your resting heart rate may be as high as 110 to 120 beats per minute.)

Blood sugar. Monitor your blood sugar if you have high blood sugar or diabetes.

Anti-rejection drugs can interact with many other medications or supplements. So check with your doctor or pharmacist about safe over-the-counter products you can take.

Anti-rejection drugs increase your risk of dental problems. These include:

Brush and floss your teeth each day. Also look inside your mouth and under your tongue each day. Call your dentist if you notice any changes or problems.

Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle is important for everyone. But it's especially important after an organ transplant. Poor lifestyle habits can increase the risk of organ rejection.

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Be sure to avoid unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and excessive drinking. Embrace healthy behaviors such as:

Your transplant dietitian will give you tips for following a healthy diet. These may include:

  • Eat high-fiber foods such as raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Increase calcium by eating low-fat dairy products, eating green leafy vegetables, or taking calcium supplements (if directed by your doctor).
  • Eat less salt, processed food, and snacks.
  • Drink plenty of water (unless you are told to limit fluids).
  • Eat high-protein foods such as lean meat, chicken (without the skin), fish, eggs, unsalted nuts, and beans.
  • Instead of frying your food, try baking, broiling, grilling, boiling, or steaming.

After an organ transplant, most patients are advised to start their exercise program with a low-impact activity such as walking. You can then gradually increase your workout intensity with aerobic activities such as:

Resistance exercise with weights can increase strength and help prevent bone loss. Stretching exercises can increase muscle tone and flexibility.

The type and amount of exercise you can do after an organ transplant will depend on your age and overall physical condition. So, it's important to follow the recommendations of your transplant team.

Transplant patients face a wide range of health concerns after the transplant. It's not uncommon for these health challenges to lead to stress. Getting proper rest and exercise can help.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on July 16, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

United Network for Organ Sharing: "What Every Patient Needs to Know."

Womenshealth.gov: "Organ Donation and Transplantation Fact Sheet."

Healthy Transplant web site: "After the Transplant;" "Health After Transplantation;" and "Quality of Life."

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