ADJUSTING TO LIFE AFTER A KIDNEY TRANSPLANT
Article Updated on 11 August 2023
Millions of people worldwide suffer from chronic kidney disease, a condition in which their kidney function deteriorates over time. A damaged kidney is unable to process and remove waste from the body through urine, resulting in a build-up of toxins that lead to multiple complications.
When kidney function fails beyond a certain point, a kidney transplant becomes necessary.
What is a Kidney Transplant?
A kidney transplant involves replacing an impaired or non-functioning kidney with a healthy donor kidney through surgery. This procedure eliminates the need for dialysis and significantly improves the recipient's quality of life. However, like any other surgery, it comes with a fair share of risks and complications.
Several factors influence the long-term success of a kidney transplant. Here, we will discuss what you can expect after undergoing a renal transplant.
After the surgery, you will need to stay at the hospital for a few days under observation. During this time, medications will be provided to ensure a painless recovery with minimal complications.
In many cases, the new kidney begins functioning immediately. However, it might take a few days in some patients. If this happens, temporary dialysis may be necessary.
Given the nature of this major surgery, it is crucial to allow yourself ample rest for about 6 to 8 weeks. After this period, you can gradually resume normal activities. Nevertheless, it is important to avoid lifting heavy objects and engaging in strenuous exercises during the recovery phase.
Rejection is a significant complication associated with any organ transplant. It arises when the immune system fails to recognize the new organ and launches an attack against it. Rejection can occur weeks, months, or even years after the transplant, making it essential to take lifelong anti-rejection or immunosuppressant medications.
These drugs are designed to reduce your body's immune response, thus preventing any unwanted actions against the new kidney. It is crucial to adhere to the prescribed medication schedule diligently, as missing doses or stopping the medication can lead to rejection and, in turn, cause irreversible damage to the transplanted kidney.
As anti-rejection drugs are crucial to the long-term success of the surgery, the following tips may be useful to make sure that your medications stay effective:
- Use alarms and alerts to remind you to take the medication at a fixed time every day.
- Know the names of the medicine, their dose, and the reason for their usage. Knowing about these will help you understand their importance and deter you from forgetting to take them.
- Any changes in dosage and frequency should be noted, and any complications should be discussed in every follow-up visit.
Infection is also a significant concern following transplant surgeries. These procedures require the lifelong use of immunosuppressants, which can weaken the body's immune system and raise the likelihood of developing infections.
Early detection and prompt treatment of infections are crucial for transplant recipients. If you experience any symptoms, such as fever, sores, or any systemic illnesses, it is essential to report them to your surgeon immediately. Timely action can help prevent serious complications and ensure a better outcome for the transplanted organ.
You can prevent infections by:
- Frequent and proper hand washing.
- Wearing masks in crowded places.
- Taking vaccines as recommended by your surgeon.
- Avoiding close contact with people with communicable diseases and limiting contact with pets.
Even people who did not have diabetes previously are at risk of developing new-onset diabetes after a transplant. Certain immunosuppressants can increase this risk. Complications in multiple organs can occur due to elevated blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle and regularly monitor blood sugar levels to prevent potential morbidity.
By adopting a healthy lifestyle and proactively monitoring blood sugar levels, transplant recipients can take proactive steps to mitigate the risk of diabetes-related complications and ensure better overall health and well-being.
The importance of regular checkups following a transplant surgery cannot be overstated. Given the potential post-operative complications and side effects of medications, consistent follow-up with your surgeon is essential.
Regular checkups enable your medical team to closely monitor your recovery progress, identify any signs of complications or medication-related issues, and make necessary adjustments to your treatment plan as needed. These checkups are crucial for ensuring the long-term success of the transplant and maintaining your overall health and well-being. Therefore, it is vital to adhere to the recommended follow-up schedule and communicate any concerns or changes in your health to your medical team promptly.
Regular blood workups and examinations should be done in follow-ups to check for the following:
- Any infection
- New onset diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Any derangement in the lipid profile
Your surgeon can recommend lifestyle modifications or medications for your specific problem and may also adjust doses of your immunosuppressant to prevent complications.
Regular follow-up helps detect and manage problems earlier. Also, you should discuss any other medications before using them, as these medications can interact with your anti-rejection drugs.
Most complications related to kidney transplants are usually due to graft rejection, infection, or side effects of the medication. You should seek medical advice if you have the following:
- High fever
- Burning sensation during urination
- Vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain
- A feeling of tiredness or drowsiness
- Little or no urination
- Difficulty breathing
Maintaining proper diet
Following a renal transplant, the diet becomes much more lenient compared to the restricted diet people follow while on dialysis. However, it is still essential to maintain a balanced diet. During the early phases of recovery after surgery, it is advised to avoid unpasteurized milk, curd, and uncooked foods as they can increase the risk of food poisoning.
A balanced diet not only aids in the recovery process but also helps decrease the risk of obesity and diabetes following surgery. Consulting a dietician is highly recommended, as they can create a personalized diet plan tailored to your specific needs, ensuring you receive the necessary nutrients while avoiding any potential risks. Remember, maintaining a healthy diet is crucial for the long-term success of your kidney transplant and overall well-being.
Maintaining proper hygiene
Maintenance of proper hygiene is crucial for reducing the chances of infection, especially after a renal transplant. Simple practices like frequent hand rubbing or washing with soap and water can significantly lower the risk of infection transmission.
In addition, wearing masks in public places, where there might be a higher risk of exposure to pathogens, is advisable to protect your health. Limiting your contact with pets can also be important, as certain animals may carry bacteria or viruses that could pose a risk to individuals with weakened immune systems.
By following these hygiene practices, you can safeguard your health and minimize the risk of infections, which is particularly important for transplant recipients who are more susceptible to infections due to immunosuppressant medications.
After the recovery period following surgery, typically around 6-8 weeks, it is ideal to gradually start engaging in moderate physical activities. However, it is essential to avoid lifting heavy weights during this initial phase.
Besides improving general health, regular exercise helps to keep the weight in check. Maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce the risk of various health conditions, including diabetes, in the long run.
Consulting with your healthcare team or a physical therapist can help design a suitable exercise plan that aligns with your recovery progress and ensures you can safely enjoy the benefits of physical activity without compromising your health. It is important to start slowly and to listen to your body during this period of physical activity transition.
Smoking can have severe adverse effects on the transplanted kidney and overall health. The blood vessels become constricted as a result of smoking, which can directly impact the blood supply to the transplanted kidney, potentially reducing its lifespan and overall function.
Furthermore, smoking is a known risk factor for various cancers, and post-transplant patients are already at a higher risk of certain cancers due to immunosuppressive medications. Smoking further exacerbates this risk, making it even more important for transplant recipients to quit smoking.
Quitting smoking is one of the most beneficial actions you can take to improve the long-term success of your kidney transplant and protect your health. If you are a smoker, seeking support from healthcare professionals or support groups can significantly increase your chances of successfully quitting and living a healthier life post-transplant.
Life post-kidney transplant requires careful consideration and adherence to various aspects that contribute to the success and well-being of the recipient. A kidney transplant gives millions of people with the chronic renal disease a new lease on life. It not only improves the quality of life but also frees them from the burdensome routine of dialysis.
However, the journey does not end with a successful surgery. It continues with the management of potential complications and the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. Graft rejection, infections, and new-onset diabetes are common challenges that require vigilant monitoring and timely medical attention. Regular checkups with the medical team are vital for early detection and prompt management of any issues that may arise.
A successful post-transplant life can be considerably influenced by making necessary lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, incorporating a balanced diet, upholding good cleanliness, and giving up smoking. These measures not only promote a healthier recovery but also play a pivotal role in preventing complications and improving overall longevity.
To search for Kidney Transplant healthcare providers worldwide, please use the Mya Care search engine
- Pinter, Jule, et al. "Perspectives of older kidney transplant recipients on kidney transplantation." Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology: CJASN 12.3 (2017): 443.
- Karuthu, Shamila, and Emily A. Blumberg. "Common infections in kidney transplant recipients." Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology 7.12 (2012): 2058-2070.
- Takahashi, Ashley, Susie L. Hu, and Andrew Bostom. "Physical activity in kidney transplant recipients: a review." American Journal of Kidney Diseases 72.3 (2018): 433-443.
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