A bone marrow transplant replaces damaged or diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells. Those cells multiply and help your body make healthy new blood cells.

If you’re going to have this kind of transplant, you can do a few things to raise your chances of a healthy recovery.

It takes time to recover.

A bone marrow transplant usually means weeks or even months in the hospital. Chances are, you’ll be happy to go home. But you may be concerned about taking care of yourself. Make a plan with your medical team, and ask your friends and family for support. It also can help to talk to a mental health professional like a social worker. (You can ask your doctor for a recommendation.)

Afterward, you’ll feel more tired than usual. You may feel weak, too, and you might not be hungry. You might notice changes in the way things smell and how food tastes. None of that is unusual.

Remember, the cells in your mouth, muscles, stomach and intestines, and even your hair are all re-growing. Take your time going back to your normal routines. A full recovery usually takes at least a year.

Protect yourself from infection.

Infection is one of the biggest concerns after a bone marrow transplant. Bacteria, viruses, and funguses can all cause it. You’re most likely to get one during the first 6 weeks. After that, your new stem cells will probably start making white blood cells that can help your body defend itself. But it can take up to a year for your immune system to fully recover.

Your doctor may want you to take antibiotics to lower your chances of infection until blood tests show your immune system is healthy enough to protect you. You should also:

  • Wash your hands often with antibacterial soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Steer clear of people who are sick, who may be sick, or who have recently been sick.
  • Wear a face mask or gloves in public if your doctor tells you to.

Call your doctor right away if:

  • Your temperature is higher than 100.4 F. (Check your temperature if you’re not feeling well.)
  • Your face is flushed, you’re sweating more than usual, your skin feels hot to the touch, or you notice a rash on your skin.
  • You have signs of being sick, like chills, sneezing, coughing, a runny nose, a sore throat, or shortness of breath.
  • You have unusual pain, pressure, or swelling anywhere in your body.
  • You’ve noticed other changes in your body, like having to pee often, pain in your rectum, or blurred vision.
  • You’ve come in contact with someone who has chickenpox or shingles, or you have painful or itchy blisters.

A bone marrow transplant can raise your odds of some long-term health problems, too. These can include hormone changes, cataracts (clouding of the lens of your eye), trouble getting pregnant or fathering a child, relapse of a previous cancer, new cancers, organ damage, and abnormal growth of lymph tissue. Talk with your doctor about possible problems and what you can do to stay healthy.

A healthy lifestyle can help you get better.

Your doctor will tell you how often you’ll need to come in for follow-up visits. It’s important to care for yourself between them.

Don’t drink alcohol, which can hurt your bone marrow as it recovers and can harm your liver, too. (Your doctor will tell you when it’s safe.) Don’t smoke tobacco or other substances.

Do your best to eat healthfully. A diet that’s full of fruits and vegetables, lean protein (like poultry and fish), and whole grains can give your body the nutrients it needs. It can also help you stay at a healthy weight, which lowers your chances of other health problems.

Drink plenty of fluids, but don’t drink grapefruit juice or eat grapefruit, because both can affect some medications your doctor might recommend. 

While you may feel tired, regular physical activity can help you get your strength and energy back. Talk to your medical team about a healthy diet and exercise plan for after your transplant.

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