You’ve worked hard to get your kidney transplant and now you wonder what’s next. How long does a transplant normally last? How do you maintain it?
As we all know, the waiting list for a transplant has increased dramatically over the years; the severe shortage of organs continues and means that the wait is very long. If you have someone willing to donate a kidney to you, then the wait is minimized.
Once you receive your transplant, you can expect to enjoy that organ for some time if you take care of it. National statistics suggest that the success rate within the first year after transplantation is over 90%.
There are multiple approaches to improving the chances of having a successful kidney transplant.
Most important, taking your antirejection medications as directed by your transplant center is critical. These medications keep your immune system from attacking your new kidney. If not enough medication is circulating in your system, your transplant could fail. Unfortunately, these medications have various side effects, so you’ll need to let your transplant team know if they become an issue. Sometimes there are alternative medications or dosing strategies that can help alleviate these side effects.
Pharmacy or insurance issues can arise as well. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s best to alert your transplant team so they can troubleshoot and help you continue to receive your medications on schedule. Although antirejection medications are essential to maintaining your transplant, other factors play an important role too. Keeping your appointments with your medical team is also crucial. You might feel great and want to skip a visit or laboratory tests. Some of the early signs of a kidney problem are silent, however, so constant monitoring is necessary.
It might sound like a cliché, but diet and exercise are key components to maintaining the health of your transplant. Weight gain caused by various factors such as medications and an improved appetite is very common in the first year after transplantation. Although there might be restrictions on exercise immediately after you receive your transplant, light exercise is usually encouraged. It’s important to check with your team before embarking on a more vigorous exercise program, however.
Perhaps you already have diabetes or else you developed it after the transplant because of the side effects of your medications. If that’s the case, close monitoring and control are critical. Poor diabetic control poses a very high risk to the viability of your transplant and is just as harmful as acute rejection.
If your blood pressure is elevated after transplantation (this is very common), you should take your blood pressure medications regularly and follow a low-salt diet. A nutritionist is a valuable resource for information, and your transplant team might have one available for consultation.
In summary, there are many ways to improve your odds of maintaining a successful kidney transplant. The key is to be aware of and informed about the many factors that contribute to success.
Rafeal Villicana, MD is a transplant nephrologist and the medical director of the kidney transplant program at Loma Linda University (LLU) Transplantation Institute. His interests include kidney and pancreas transplantation, living kidney donation, and ABO /HLA incompatible kidney transplantation.
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