If 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. However, life after the procedure can seem daunting.
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 vital component of this treatment method is having realistic expectations of life after the procedure 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 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, a new medication may stop these. About 4% of patients will lose their kidney in the first year due to rejection, and roughly 21% will lose theirs in the first five years. Life after the procedure can seem scary.
Symptoms of rejection include:
- Body aches
- Shortness of Breath
3. Post-Op Limitations
Life after the procedure will come with some short-term limitations. A support team is essential as you cannot 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 a journey beyond the continental U.S. is generally not recommended for 6-12 months.
4. Continued Treatment is Necessary
As we mentioned, a kidney transplant is a treatment, not a cure. With chronic kidney disease, treatment does not stop after a transplant. You will need to continue taking medications as prescribed by your doctor and attend regularly scheduled follow-ups during life after the procedure.
Some of these medications are likely the same as those you took before your transplant, but you will probably be prescribed some new ones. Unfortunately, you can expect to take some of these medications for the rest of your life. You must accept 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 improve your overall quality of life but can help reduce your risk of rejection. By taking care of your health, you also take care of your donor kidney. You will want to talk to your doctor before changing your diet or exercise regimen.
- 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 by 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 who undergoes an organ transplant should wear a medical identification bracelet or necklace to indicate that they have had a kidney transplant and are immunosuppressed. In an emergency, this will provide first responders with essential life-saving information during life after the procedure.
7. Each Patient is Different
The most important thing to understand about life after the procedure is that each person’s recovery differs. 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 active in your health and working with your transplant team can help improve your recovery.
Are you preparing for kidney treatment and wondering about what to expect with life after the procedure? Our team at Durham Nephrology is here to answer your questions and provide valuable resources. 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 us today.