Organ rejection can occur after a transplant. While pre-transplant tests and post-transplant care significantly reduce rejection, the risk remains, even years after the transplant.
The good news: Having an episode of organ rejection does not mean you will lose your new organ. While organ rejection may not be entirely preventable, we will do our best to catch it and treat it. This is why consistent care and contact with your transplant team, is crucial.
Types of Organ Rejection
The type of organ rejection you experience depends on its timing after transplant:
- Acute rejection: occurs within the first few months
- Chronic rejection: happens after a year or at any time beyond
Acute rejection happens when your body’s immune system treats the new organ like a foreign object and attacks it. We treat this by reducing your immune system's response with medication.
Chronic rejection can become a long-term problem. Complex conditions can make rejection difficult to treat. Your body, for instance, may develop antibodies to the transplanted organ; a disease can also weaken your immune system and trigger an episode.
Medications and Infections: Immunosuppressive Drugs
Organ transplant surgery can save and improve the quality of your life. After you have an organ transplant, you will need to take medication (immunosuppressants) for the rest of your life to keep your body from rejecting your new organ. These immunosuppressants, however, make you more likely to develop an infection. Infections can interfere with how you take your immunosuppressants. During times of infection, you will need closer monitoring for possible episodes of rejection.
In order to keep your medications in balance and keep you healthy, your transplant team will need to monitor you on a regular basis. That way, should you experience organ rejection, we can treat you right away.
Your Role in Transplant Success
You are the most important member of your transplant team.
To maintain your health, as an organ transplant recipient, you will have the best outcomes if you:
- Take your medication consistently and don't miss a dose
- Go to all your appointments
- Complete all required lab tests
- Communicate with us
If you get sick, or another doctor prescribes you a medication, you will need to let us know. We will have to determine:
- The nature of your illness, and whether it relates to your transplant
- If it is the best prescription or medicine for you
- If the medication will interact with your immunosuppressant
While an infection does not automatically result in organ rejection, infections do increase the risk of rejection, especially if they require medications that compromise your immunosuppressants.
Staying clear of infections is another step you can take to keep yourself and your new organ healthy. We will educate and support you about the best ways to do this. Good hand washing, vaccinations for you and your family, food safety practices and specific guidelines pertaining to your transplant can help you stay healthy.
Organ Rejection Symptoms
Organ rejection symptoms vary by the type of organ transplant you've had. If you experience fever, pain or other signs of illness, contact the transplant center right away.
The first step: We will give you medicines to counter the rejection. Organ rejection often requires a biopsy and a hospital stay, along with tests and monitoring. Certain types of rejection may require more intense or lengthy treatments.