Learning About Organ Transplant Rejection

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What is it?

Organ transplant rejection happens when your body tries to destroy an organ that you have received. Your immune system protects you from infection and disease. It defends your body against foreign matter. So your body may attack the donor organ because the organ doesn't match your own tissue exactly.

What are the symptoms?

Organ rejection can affect many body functions. These include blood pressure, breathing, digestion, bowel and bladder habits, and blood sugar levels. Some symptoms include:

  • Fatigue (feeling tired).
  • A general feeling of illness (malaise).
  • Fever or chills.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Sudden weight gain or swelling.
  • Pain over the transplant site.
  • Less urine output, if you had a kidney transplant.

You may have other symptoms caused by the organ you received. Sometimes there are no symptoms.

How is it diagnosed?

Blood tests may be done that can show if an organ is being rejected. These tests may be able to show the problem before symptoms start.

Organ rejection may be confirmed with a biopsy. This is a small sample of tissue taken from an organ.

How can it be prevented?

You can take steps to keep your new organ healthy and help you live longer.

  • Go to your doctor appointments.

    Regular follow-up with your doctor is important to check for organ rejection.

  • Take your anti-rejection medicines as directed.

    It may help to talk to someone who has had a transplant. This person can talk to you about how you can make taking these medicines part of your daily life.

  • Know what to do if you miss a dose.

    Talk to your care team if you are missing doses. They want to help.

  • Know the side effects of the anti-rejection medicines.

    If you have severe side effects, tell your doctor right away.

  • Get regular blood and tissue tests.

    These tests help your doctor know if your organ is being rejected. This doesn't mean that you will lose the organ. Adding or changing medicines may still help treat or prevent rejection.

  • Don't take any over-the-counter medicines before talking with your doctor.

    These include cold or herbal remedies. Other medicines may interact poorly with your anti-rejection medicines.

How is it treated?

Organ transplant rejection is treated with medicines that reduce your body's immune response. Your treatment depends on any other conditions you have. It may depend on how much time has passed since the transplant. Medicines that reduce your body's immune response can make it hard to fight infections. So you may also get medicines to prevent infections.

You may be treated in the hospital or at home. If you have other conditions, you're more likely to stay in the hospital.

You will be watched closely to be sure your medicines are working.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.