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Life After a Kidney Transplant

Life After a Kidney Transplant; Senior Adult Taking Pills Medicine ConceptIf you are a candidate for a kidney transplant, your physician has likely already stressed that although the procedure can be life-saving, a transplant is not a cure for kidney disease. It is a treatment. 

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the organization that manages the national transplant waiting list,  a transplanted kidney can do 40-85% of the work of two working kidneys. A key component of this treatment method is having realistic expectations of life after a kidney transplant and the ways that you can help improve your quality of life. Here are a few things you should know: 

1. Risk for Additional Medical Problems

Following surgery, you may be at greater risk for additional medical problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Also, some of the medications that you may be prescribed could make it more difficult for your body to fight off infections caused by viruses and bacteria.

2. Rejection is Possible

As with all medical procedures, there are no guarantees. An estimated 1 in 10 patients will experience rejection symptoms. In some cases, these may be stopped with a change in medication. About 4% of patients will lose their kidney in the first year due to rejection and roughly 21% will lose theirs in the first 5 years.

Symptoms of rejection include: 

  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Nausea
  • Cough 
  • Fever
  • Shortness of Breath

3. Post-Op Limitations

Life after a kidney transplant will come with some short-term limitations. Having a support team is essential as you will not able to drive for 2-4 weeks after your transplant. Most transplant recipients can return to school or work within two months. Domestic travel is not recommended within the first two or three months following your surgery, and travel beyond the continental U.S. is generally not recommended for 6-12 months. 

4. Continued Treatment is Necessary

As we mentioned previously, a kidney transplant is a treatment, not a cure. And with chronic kidney disease, treatment does not stop once you’ve had a transplant. You will need to continue taking medications as prescribed by your doctor and attend regularly scheduled follow-ups. Some of these medications are likely the same as ones that you took prior to your transplant, but you will likely be prescribed some new ones in addition. Unfortunately, you can expect to take some of these medications for the rest of your life. It’s critical that you take these medications as directed because even missing a single dose can cause your body to reject the new kidney.

5. Quality of Life

Lifestyle changes can not only improve your overall quality of life but can help reduce your risk of rejection. By taking care of your health, you are also taking care of your donor kidney. You will want to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet or exercise regimen, you should: 

  • Eat healthy, nutritious foods
  • Engage in physical activity each day
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Wear sunscreen, as transplant recipients have an increased risk of developing skin and lip cancers

On average, kidneys from a deceased donor typically last 10-15 years. Those donated from a living relative tend to last the longest. The age and health of the organ donor can affect how long your new kidney will work. In some cases, donated kidneys have lasted up to 30 years whereas others fail almost immediately.

6. Emergency Medical Identification

Anyone that undergoes an organ transplant should wear a medical identification bracelet or necklace at all times to indicate that you have had a kidney transplant and are immunosuppressed. In the event of an emergency, this will provide first responders essential life-saving information.

7. Each Patient is Different

The most important thing to understand about life after a kidney transplant is that each person’s recovery is different. A kidney transplant may afford you a better quality of life, free from dialysis, but it is an ongoing treatment method that requires a lifelong commitment. Being an active participant in your health and working together with your transplant team can help improve your recovery. 

To learn more about the kidney transplant procedure and to determine if you are a candidate, call (919) 477-3005 to schedule an appointment with Durham Nephrology today.

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