Life After Kidney Transplant

When a person's kidney no longer functions correctly, a kidney transplant may be needed. The surgical procedure removes the dysfunctional organ and replaces the impaired kidney with a donated one.

Your body needs at least one kidney to survive. The organ's main function is to remove waste and excessive fluid from your blood. If your body is infiltrated by high levels of toxins, you can develop end-stage kidney disease or kidney failure. The best treatment in this case is kidney transplant.

Life after Kidney Transplant

  1. Keep a Healthy Diet

After your transplant, you may be able to introduce different foods back into your diet, but you will need to wait until your new kidney is functioning correctly.

Certain foods carry a higher risk for food poisoning and you should avoid these shortly after your transplant. These include:

  • Undercooked or rare meats, shellfish and fish
  • Unpasteurized cheese, yogurt or milk
  • Foods with raw eggs

When your new kidney is in full working order, you can follow a more varied but still healthy diet. Choose your foods carefully to avoid diseases affecting your kidneys like diabetes. Try to incorporate the following:

  • Whole grain rice, bread, and pasta
  • Five daily servings of vegetables and fruits
  • Healthy protein such as chicken, fish, eggs and beans
  • Dairy foods like milk and yogurt
  • Avoid salt when possible as it can lead to high blood pressure, which is very dangerous for kidney transplant recipients.

2.   Avoid Alcohol and Illegal Drugs

  • Alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure, a dangerous condition for people with a kidney transplant. Don't drink more than 7 glasses of beer or wine per week. Avoid drinking large amount of alcohol over the course of 3 or more days.
  • Life after kidney transplant requires you to avoid illegal drugs. Use of these substances can cause a spike in blood pressure, affect the effectiveness of your medications and cause permanent kidneys damage.
  • Herbal remedies and OTC medications can be damaging as well, check with your doctor before taking any type of medications or supplements.

3.   Take Immunosuppressant Medication

When you have a kidney transplant, you will have to take an immunosuppressant drug to keep your body from attacking your new organ. The dosage may vary over time, but you will most likely have to take for as long as you live.

Commonly used immunosuppressant medications are ciclosporin, tacrolimus, prednisolone, azathioprine, sirolimus and mycophenolate.

Because of your weakened immune system with long-term use of these drugs, you will need to work harder to avoid infections:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly before preparing and eating meals, as well after using the bathroom.
  • Stay away from people who have infections like the flu and colds.
  • If you scratch or cut your skin, make sure to clean and disinfect the area and cover it with a sterile bandage.
  • Keep your vaccinations as current as possible, but remember you will be unable to receive any live virus vaccines due to your weak immune system.

4.   Do Physical Activity

Part of a healthy lifestyle is exercising and maintaining a healthy weight. As soon as you are allowed to, try the following:

  • Incorporate between 2-3 hours of moderate physical activity in your routine every week.
  • Try activities like swimming, fast walking, bike riding, tennis, etc.
  • Don't set unrealistic goals or do too much at once. Instead, steadily increase your activity until you reach where you want to be.
  • If you're overweight, combine exercise with a calorie-controlled healthy diet. Your doctor can give you guidelines on what your healthy weight should be.

5.   Don't Smoke

Life after kidney transplant should not include smoking. Smoking increases your chances of infection, damages your vital organs and causes cancer. In fact, cancer is the number one cause of death after kidney transplantation. 

  • Don't drink caffeinated beverages such as coffee, soft drinks, energy drinks, etc.
  • Drink more fluids to flush your body of nicotine.
  • When dealing with an urge to smoke, take deep breaths. Count to ten while you slowly exhale. This will help the craving pass and get more oxygen into your body.
  • Incorporate vitamin B and C supplements into your diet if your doctor says it's okay. Both may help calm your nerves.
  • Join a support group.
  • If your doctor says it's okay, use a nicotine patch/gum to ease your cravings.
  • Add daily exercise to your routine to help fight depression associated with quitting.

6.   Take Care of Your Skin

The immunosuppressant drugs you take after a kidney transplant can affect your skin. Some of them will cause acne breakout on your face, back, chest, shoulders and other areas.

  • To control the issue, gently wash the infected areas in the morning and before bed to get rid of excess oil. Don't irritate your skin by scrubbing too harshly. 
  • If washing alone doesn't help, try an OTC benzoyl peroxide wash once a day, or twice a day if your skin doesn't become overly dry.
  • Avoid touching your face with your hands.
  • Shampoo hair on daily basis.
  • Keep cosmetic use to a minimum or avoid if possible.
  • Don't pick at infected areas.

You may also experience dry skin after a kidney transplant. Use mild soaps and apply moisturizers to help with the problem.

Your skin will also be more sensitive to the sun so use sunblock regularly, apply as much as needed because you will burn more easily.

7.   Care for Your Hair

Immunosuppressant drugs can dry out your hair as well so the use of hair dye, curling lotions or straightening solutions may weaken your hair. It may break more easily. Consult your doctor before using these products.

Some medications may cause hair loss, while other will cause excess hair growth. Excess hair on your face can be removed by products designed for the sensitive skin in this area. These removers can cause irritations so use with caution. You may have to bleach the hair growth instead.

8.   Check Vision

Make sure to have annual appointments with an ophthalmologist. Some of the immunosuppressant drugs can cause changes in your vision or the development of cataracts. 

9.   Take Care of Your Teeth

  • Life after kidney transplant includes taking care of your teeth and gums on a regular basis. You should see your dentist six months after your transplant to make sure you have your teeth cleaned and evaluated for any dental work.
  • Take an antibiotic during any type of dental work after your transplant, even if it's just for a clean and polish. A letter from your doctor can inform your dentist about the need for the medication.
  • Outside the dentist office, you should perform good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth twice a day and gently flossing on a regular basis.

10.   Regain Sex Life

Kidney problems can greatly affect a person's sex life. Men can experience impotence, while women can have erratic menstrual cycles. Both can have a decreased libido.

  • After you have a kidney transplant, your sex life may improve drastically as your body gets back to normal. However, some new medications you will have to take may affect how you feel and perform. You can discuss your concerns with your doctor to see if alternative drugs or different doses can help.
  • The use of immunosuppressant drugs can make women more susceptible to bladder and urinary tract infections so it is important you urinate after intercourse and wipe well from front to back. Also, drink a lot of water to flush your system.

11.   Get Pregnant

Getting pregnant after a kidney transplant is possible after full recovery from the transplant, but it carries greater risk for complications. It is recommended a woman wait at least a year before attempting to get pregnant. Inform your doctor of your intentions as your medications will need to be adjusted. Also, your doctor can discuss the potential risks you and your unborn baby will face during the pregnancy.

Survival Rates for Kidney Transplant

docs looking at kidney modelKidney transplant survival rates according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network:

  • Transplanted kidney failure has been reported at about 4% percent among deceased-donor recipients of the kidney transplant within one year of procedure and at about 21% at five years after procedure.
  • Transplanted kidney failure has been reported at about 3% percent among living-donor recipients of the kidney transplant within one year of procedure and at 14% at five years after procedure.
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