One of the most important parts of taking care of yourself after your transplant is preventing rejection of the new organ. While the risk of rejection decreases over time, it never goes away completely. This means that you’ll be taking medications to prevent rejection for your entire lifetime. The following will provide an overview of what rejection is and tips to help you manage your medications and stay on track.1
What is rejection?
Rejection happens when your immune system recognizes your donor organ as foreign. As with any other foreign cells in your body, like disease-causing bacteria or viruses, your immune system may attack the organ in an attempt to get rid of it. However, rejection usually doesn’t mean losing the donor organ.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), every organ recipient will experience some degree of rejection and it is most common shortly after transplant surgery. In fact, according to UNOS, at least one episode of acute rejection within the first year after surgery is common. In many cases, it can be managed by working with your medical team to make adjustments to your medication regimen. More severe rejection events may require hospitalization so you can be monitored closely by your transplant team.
There are two types of rejection:
- Acute rejection, which can usually be managed with medication
- Chronic rejection, which causes a gradual loss of function in the transplanted organ
Repeated episodes of acute rejection can lead to chronic rejection, so recognizing symptoms early and staying on track with your medication regimen are critical to caring for your transplanted organ and staying healthy.
Rejection can happen at any time, even years after your transplant, so it’s important to be aware of signs and symptoms and recognize them early. UNOS lists the following as signs and symptoms of rejection:
- Pain or tenderness over the transplant site
- Flu-like symptoms such as chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, headache, dizziness or body aches
- Changes in pulse rate
- Weight gain
- Less urine
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s critical that you talk to your doctor or transplant team right away.
Managing your medications.
- Preventing rejection requires that you take medications that suppress your immune system and help prevent it from attacking your donor organ. Because these medications make you more susceptible to infections, you may also be prescribed antibiotic and antiviral medications. Many transplant recipients have a complicated medication routine with many drugs that have to be taken at a specific time of day. Here are some tips to help you stay on track.
- Use a chart to keep track of your medications and mark off when you’ve taken them
- Sort a week’s worth of your medication into a pill organizer
- Set reminders or alarms on your phone
- Enlist a friend or family member to help you stay on track
If you have any questions about your medications, talk to your doctor or contact your CVS Specialty CareTeam.