In a stem cell transplant, healthy stem cells are placed in your body to help your bone marrow start to work as it should.
If the stem cells came from your own blood or bone marrow, this is called an autologous transplant. You may be able to get part or even all of your treatment in an outpatient clinic. If you need to be in a hospital, you probably won't have to stay longer than 3 weeks.
If the stem cells came from another person, this is called an allogeneic transplant. You may spend 4 weeks or longer in the hospital. About 1 out of 4 people need to be readmitted within the first 3 months because of problems that may occur.
When you receive someone else's stem cells, you need treatment with medicine. This medicine is used to prevent your immune system from attacking the donor stem cells. You may also take medicine to help prevent the donor cells from attacking your body. Most people who don't have an immune system reaction take these medicines for 2 to 6 months.
Problems from a stem cell transplant may include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, mouth sores, hair loss, and bleeding. It can also cause an infection such as pneumonia. A severe, often life-threatening infection can occur after a stem cell transplant. You will need to take antibiotics for several months to prevent infection.
This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to feel better as quickly as possible.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
- Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
- Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.
- You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
- Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also get instructions about taking any new medicines.
- If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
- Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
- If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
- If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
- If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
- Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
- Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
- If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You passed out (lost consciousness).
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have a fever or chills. Or you may be sweating.
- You have abnormal bleeding.
- You think you have an infection.
- You have new or worse pain.
- You have new symptoms, such as a cough, belly pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or a rash.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You are much more tired than usual.
- You have swollen glands in your armpits, groin, or neck.
- You do not get better as expected.
Where can you learn more?
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