Life After a Kidney Transplant

After a kidney transplant, it is important to return to normal life, whilst also taking care to ensure the success of the transplant.

Kidneys (red) with body faintly in background (blue)

Magic mine | Shutterstock

This article provides specific recommendations for kidney transplant recipients that promote a healthy lifestyle and reduce the risk of damage to the transplanted organs.

Emergency medical identification

It is recommended that any organ transplant recipient wears a medical identification bracelet or necklace at all times. For those who have received a kidney transplant, it is important that this form of medical identification includes “immunosuppressed.”

Take medications as directed

Patients who have received a kidney transplant need to regularly take certain medications to ensure that their new kidney is working properly. While some medications will need to be taken indefinitely, others may only be necessary for a specific amount of time. These medications include:

  • Immunosuppressants (Anti-rejection drugs)
  • Antibiotics/antiviral medications
  • Symptomatic medications

Symptomatic medications are used to reduce common side effects following a kidney transplant, including:

  • Constipation
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Patients are also strongly urged to always consult with their transplant team prior to taking any new medication, such as over-the-counter medicines and herbal remedies, as many medications have the potential to interact with immunosuppressants.

Smoking

It is strongly recommended that kidney transplant recipients who are previous smokers quit as soon as possible. In general, cigarettes are associated with a significant increase in a person’s risk of heart disease, cancer, and lung disease. Patients who have continued to smoke after receiving a kidney transplant are twice as likely to suffer from kidney failure as compared to those who are non-smokers.

Avoid alcohol and drugs

Drinking excessively can be dangerous for kidney transplant recipients, as this raises blood pressure. Additionally, alcohol is high in calories, which can cause patients to gain weight if they are drinking on a regular basis.

The recommended limits of alcohol for kidney transplant recipients are 3-4 units a day for men and 2-3 units a day for women. It is recommended that no more than 14 units of alcohol are consumed, with at least a few alcohol-free days, each week, for both male and female kidney transplant recipients.

The use of illegal drugs of abuse should be avoided, as these drugs can potentially damage kidneys, lead to a sudden and prolonged rise in blood pressure and/or negatively interact with immunosuppressive medications.

Is diet important?

Kidney transplant recipients are advised to consume a generally healthy diet, of which includes at least five servings of fruit and vegetables each day. In addition, it is recommended that a major portion of a patient’s healthy diet includes starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice and pasta.

The consumption of some dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein is also important. Fats and sugars should be taken in moderation, whereas salts should be avoided as much as possible, as salty food can raise blood pressure.

Weight loss and exercise

Once the patient has recovered from the surgery, regular physical activity is recommended. For adults, at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity physical or aerobic activity every week is ideal.

Moderately intense activity should involve any type of exercise that increases the heart and breathing rate, and can also make the person sweat. Some examples of this type of exercise include jogging, swimming, fast walking, tennis and much more.

Kidney transplant recipients who are overweight or obese are strongly urged to incorporate both regular exercise and a healthy and calorie-controlled diet into their lives in order to reach a healthy weight.

How to avoid infection

Patients taking immunosuppressive medications are immunocompromised and are therefore at a higher risk of acquiring infections as compared to healthy individuals. To prevent infections, good personal hygiene, such as regular hand washing before eating and after using the bathroom, should be maintained. Additionally, contact with individuals with contagious infections, such as the flu or chicken pox, should be avoided as much as possible.

Care should be taken not to cut or graze the skin in order to avoid potential infections. Vaccinations against infections are important; however, some vaccines that contain live viruses, such as the mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, cannot be administered after a patient has received a kidney transplant.

Sexual activity

Sexual intercourse should be avoided until the abdominal incision wound from the transplant surgery has completely healed, which can take approximately 4 to 6 weeks.

It is also important to recognize that a person’s sexuality can also be affected following kidney transplantation. For example, kidney failure can cause a cascade of problems in regard to a person’s sexuality, of which can include impotence in men and a decreased sexual drive, as well as irregular menstrual cycles in women. Alternatively, patients who have previously experienced these effects may find that their sexual function has improved.

Since kidney transplant recipients must often take blood pressure medication following their surgery, these drugs have the potential to interfere with sexual function. Some effects of these medications include drowsiness, fatigue, decreased sexual drive, menstrual cycle irregularities and/or reduced vaginal lubrication.

In addition, transplant recipients may not enjoy sexual experiences as much as they did prior to taking this class of medications. The patient’s transplant team and/or a counselor can provide guidance to patients experiencing these sexual function effects following a kidney transplant.   

How soon can I get pregnant?

It is recommended that women who have received a kidney transplant avoid getting pregnant for at least for one year after the surgery. Since a kidney transplant carries many risks for both the health of the mother and fetus, a woman who is planning to get pregnant in the future should discuss these risks with her clinician.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Nov 29, 2018

Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine, which are two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are currently used in anticancer therapy.

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Comments

  1. sherrikidney hurtin sherrikidney hurtin United States says:

    Nobody says anything about weight gain!!! I just received my gift of life from my kid  is gas & fluids from the surgery. I'm so swollen around the trunk & thighs it's unbelievably painful. All any of the medical people say is that it is gas & fluids from the surgery. Really? Almost 60 lbs 8 days later? And I've been moving about as told to. The trunk is so thick & sore I can barely bend to sit or lay down.  IS THIS NORMAL??? HELP>

    • Lorry Schlick Lorry Schlick United States says:

      No, this is NOT normal unless you have an infection or in rejection. I know u posted this last Oct, but I gained 35 pounds 11 yrs post-transplant in my trunk and thighs. Been in hosp four times. They say nothing is wrong they can find. Said I have "lymphedema" which is a symptom not a diagnosis. What is causing the swelling? No one can tell me and I am suffering terribly like you. I am house and bed-bound now because of it. My kidney transplant is fine so this has the doctors and ME VERY FRUSTRATED. This has been my life for the last five months with no solution in sight. All I worry about is the long term effects of all this fluid on my transplant, heart, and lungs.
      PLEASE, have you gotten an answer? I hope so for your sake and also mine. I hope you are healthy now and happy. I can tell you anything about the transplant experience in General, but your issue is my constant issue too. Let me know, ok, Sherri, as I would like to know how you're doing.
      Lorry...11 yr renal transplant recipient from my husband. <3

    • Victor Rodriguez Victor Rodriguez United States says:

      That's a whole lot of extra wieght after transplant, the wieght could just be fluid wieght another possibility you've been given High doses of a steroid making your body retain fluid the higher the dose the more the body will retain.
      Our you on any water pills to help rid of the extra fluid? If you are be Sure to have a banana or an orange something high in potassium water pills makes the body rid of potassium frequently keep it monitoring your lab results a drug was prescribed to help my body rid of additional fluid the only problem I would urinate through out the entire night which was becoming a problem, regardless the transplanted kidney was working great dispite the few hour's of sleep I was actually getting, continue to elevate your legs and get second may even a third opinion .  Hope this helps!

  2. faiyaz ali faiyaz ali Qatar says:

    Can any one tell me that after kidney transplant if kidney last for 10 years and then it failed . can the patient have one more kidney transplant? and if yes how many times?

  3. Glafy Aime Glafy Aime India says:

    If a person has underwent kidney transplantation, is it necessary that he will get kidney trouble again? is it necessary that he should not get married?

  4. Sambit Satpathy Sambit Satpathy India says:

    How could a person handle if his work culture is more travelling and particular in rural areas

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News-Medical.Net.
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