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Kidney Transplant Post-Op Care and Recovery

Chronic kidney disease affects millions of Americans. In many cases, a kidney transplant is the best option to live longer and feel better.

Since 1988, surgeons at UPMC have done more than 4,200 kidney transplants. Our experts provide care before, during, and after your transplant, guiding you through the entire process.

What Is Post-Transplant Care?

The steps leading up to a kidney transplant are long and involved.

You may have to wait years before a deceased-donor kidney is ready for you. If you find a living kidney donor, you may be able to receive a transplant sooner.

After the kidney transplant, most people are anxious to get their lives back to normal. But it's vital to follow certain steps to give you the best chance of a full recovery.

After a kidney transplant:

  • You may spend up to a week in the hospital healing.
  • You will likely need temporary dialysis while we wait for your kidney to start functioning.
    You will need to come to the post-transplant clinic for follow up care as directed by your transplant team and this often entails frequent visits for the first few weeks after transplant.
  • You will need to take anti-rejection medicine for the rest of the life of your kidney transplant. 

Helping you avoid post-op complications

As with any major surgery, kidney transplant has some level of post-op risk.

The world-renowned nephrologists at the UPMC Kidney Disease Center will help you:

1. Protect your new kidney.

Organ rejection can happen anytime after transplant. The most common cause is not taking your anti-rejection drugs.

Based on what type and how severe of organ rejection, the transplant team may be able to address it.

It is imperative to take your anti-rejection medications as prescribed, obtain lab work as recommended, and follow up in clinic as recommended. 

2. Learn how to live with your new medication.

Anti-rejection, or immunosuppressant, drugs decrease the chance of your body rejecting the new kidney.

But they weaken the whole immune system, making infections and cancers, such as skin cancer, more likely. And they can make you more prone to certain diseases, such as heart disease and bone disease.

You'll need periodic checks from your doctor for problems as they often can present without warning signs.

Side effects can occur with anti-rejection medications and the transplant team can work with you to address should they arise post-transplant. 

Signs That You Should Call the Doctor Post-Transplant

Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms after your kidney transplant:

  • Sudden weight gain
  • Body aches, chills
  • Headaches
  • Fever of 100 degrees or higher
  • Exhaustion
  • Mood swings
  • Peeing less than usual
  • Blood in your urine
  • A burning feeling when peeing
  • Diarrhea
  • High blood pressure
  • Sores or wounds that don't heal
  • Respiratory infection symptoms (cough, sore throat, stuffy nose)

Healing After Kidney Transplant

Many transplant recipients feel much healthier after their surgery. But to fully heal and get back to a “new normal," you'll need to follow your doctor's instructions to the letter.

Once you're home, we recommend that you:

1. Adopt a healthy diet.

You should eat foods low in salt and sugar to help control your blood pressure. A diet rich in whole grains, lean protein, and fresh fruits and veggies will also help you maintain a healthy weight.

2. Start an exercise program.

It's important to be active after your transplant. Your transplant team will urge you to walk as much as you can soon after surgery.

Once you're home, it's vital to stay active to keep your weight and blood pressure at a healthy level.

Your transplant team will tailor your workouts to your needs, which could include:

  • Moderate biking
  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Yoga

3. Make sure you have an emotional support team.

Having a kidney transplant can bring some mental health challenges. You may even struggle with conflicting feelings in the weeks after surgery.

For instance, you may:

  • Feel guilty for having a transplant while others are still waiting for a kidney.
  • Be sad that your new kidney came from someone who died.
  • Feel unsure or anxious about your newfound life.

Talking with family and friends can help with feelings of sadness, anxiety, or guilt.

You can also reach out to your transplant team at UPMC for guidance or about support groups post-kidney transplant.

4. Avoid being around sick people.

If you have contact with someone who has respiratory viral illness (flu, COVID-19, or RSV) or pneumonia, then you could get very sick.

Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly, use antimicrobial gel, and mask when going out during cold and flu season.

5. Keep taking your anti-rejection medicine as prescribed.

You'll need to take anti-rejection drugs after your transplant, most likely for the rest of your life. You'll also need to keep taking medications for any other health conditions you have. It is important to continue to follow up with your primary care provider and your other health care providers regularly after transplant. 

Talk to your transplant team if you have any questions about the medicines you take.

6. Avoid anyone who's recently had a live vaccine.

You should avoid children or others who've had live vaccines for:

  • Polio
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Nasal flu

Post-transplant, there are some vaccines you shouldn't get. Talk to your doctor about those you should and shouldn't receive.

7. Keep all your appointments and have all needed lab tests.

Even if you're feeling better, only your doctor can tell if your medications are working right by checking your lab results.

And the closer you follow your doctor's instructions, the more likely you are to have a healthy, successful recovery after kidney transplant.

Contact the UPMC Kidney Disease Center

To learn more about post-transplant care at UPMC: