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Organ transplantation is the surgical removal of healthy organs or tissues from one person followed by surgical insertion of those organs or tissues into another person. These life-saving procedures, typically for heart, kidney, liver and lung failure, remove the problematic organ from recipient of the donor organ.
Depending on the organ, there are certain reasons why it may stop working properly:
- Heart — TThere are certain conditions that either damage or overwork the heart muscle and lead to heart failure. These conditions can include coronary heart disease (CHD), high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Kidney — Diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac disease, and hereditary can lead to damage of the blood vessels in the kidneys, which can cause kidney failure over time if not adequately treated.
- Liver — The most common reason adults require a liver transplant is hepatitis C infection, followed by alcoholic liver cirrhosis as the second leading cause. Less common causes are bile duct dysfunction from multiple different sources.
- Lung — The most common reasons for needing a lung transplant are:
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). COPD is the most common factor that leads to adults needing a lung transplant. COPD is a progressive disease that leads to increased difficulty in breathing over time.
- Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). IPF is a condition that causes thick and stiff, or scarred tissue in the lungs over time.
- Cystic fibrosis (CF). CF is the most common reason in children for lung transplant. CF is a genetic disorder that leads to thickening of the mucus in the lungs that in turn can cause increased respiratory infections
- • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AAT deficiency). AAT deficiency is a condition that raises the risk of developing certain types of lung disease. This risk is highest in people who smoke.
- Pulmonary hypertension (PH). PH is increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries. These arteries carry blood from the heart to the lungs to pick up oxygen.
Organ transplantation is the last option to treat people when all other options, such as medications or medical devices, have failed. A doctor will determine if a patient requires an organ transplant based on medical and family histories, physical exam, whether the patient is healthy enough to receive a new organ and the results of certain lab tests. Once the doctor has made the diagnosis you will then be placed on an organ donation waiting list.
Although transplantation removes the damaged organ and replaces it with a better functioning organ, a patient will require ongoing medication to ensure their immune system does not reject the donor organ. The body’s immune system may view the donor organ as a foreign object and attempt to attack. Medications that help to regulate that response, called immunosuppressants, adjust the body’s natural tendency to attack and ensure that the donor organ functions appropriately in the recipient patient.
The medications used post-transplant prevent organ rejection by weakening your immune system. This in turn can result in an increased risk of infections. It is important to contact your doctor as soon as you feel you may be getting sick.
Other side effects could possibly include weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, acne or cataracts. These effects could lead to changes in your daily activities; however, it’s important to remain on the medications to ensure there is no rejection of the donor organ.
It is also important to understand that depending on the initial cause of the organ failure you may still need to take medications that prevent that from occurring again, such as lung transplant because of cystic fibrosis. If you do not continue to take your maintenance medications you would risk organ failure again in your new donor organ.
Your new medication regimen may continue multiple medications both for your disease state and transplant it is important to take every as prescribed and not miss doses. Many of these medications may cause interactions so it is important to discuss everything your taking, including over the counter and herbal supplements, with your doctor and pharmacist.
Emotional wellbeing and support are also a large part of treatment and recovery for transplant patients. Oftentimes transplants can lead to feelings of anxiety, fear, and guilt, among others. This is completely normal and it is important to discuss these feelings with your healthcare providers and family to assure to receive adequate treatment and support.
There are many resources and organizations available to help, providing support, advocacy and information:
National Institutes of Health. NHLBI. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/ht/. Accessed May 13, 2015
National Institutes of Health. NHLBI. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf/. Accessed May 13, 2015
National Institutes of Health. NKDEP. http://www.nkdep.nih.gov/patients/kidney_disease_information.htm. Accessed May 13, 2015
National Institutes of Health. NHLBI. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/lungtxp/. Accessed May 13, 2015.
US National Library of Medicine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/organtransplantation.html. Accessed May 13, 2015.
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