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After Kidney Transplant: What to Expect

Many people waiting for a kidney transplant have questions about their recovery and how their life will change after surgery. At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center, we understand the physical and emotional challenges of kidney transplantation. 

Our specialists help you stay healthy and active after kidney transplant surgery, following you throughout the life of your transplant. 

Kidney Transplant Recovery: What to Expect

As you recover from kidney transplant surgery, our team follows you closely. We continue to coordinate your care with your primary care doctor for the rest of your life. This comprehensive approach ensures you receive the highest level of care. Here is what to expect during your recovery:

  • Follow-up care after surgery: In the weeks following surgery, we monitor you through frequent check-ups at our outpatient clinic. If you live outside the St. Louis area, you can arrange temporary lodging near the hospital during this period. You stay in regular contact with your nurse coordinator after returning home. You will need to return periodically to Barnes-Jewish Hospital for follow-up exams.
  • Importance of self-care: Your decisions and dedication to your own self-care will be vital to the success of your transplant. Our transplant team helps you every step of the way, offering the guidance you need and the support you deserve. Learn more about the support services we offer in Kidney Transplant: What to Expect.
  • Recovery tips: Transplant patients usually return to normal activities within four to eight weeks. It’s important to avoid any heavy lifting during this recovery period. You can help your recovery and reduce the risk of complications by:
    • Taking your medications as directed
    • Watching for side effects or signs of rejection
    • Following a healthy lifestyle, making smart food choices and exercising regularly
    • Seeking support when you need it

Importance of Nutrition and Exercise

As you recover from transplant surgery, it is normal to feel tired or weak. Most patients are ready to return to work or school within one to two months after transplant, although it may take longer to build your energy and endurance. Regular exercise and good nutrition can help you get back to a more normal, active routine: 

  • Importance of exercise: In the hospital, you receive physical therapy to help you regain your strength after surgery. Once you’re home, the best activity in the first few weeks is walking. You should avoid strenuous activity and heavy lifting for the first six months after transplant. You need to avoid high-risk activities and sports entirely.
  • Nutrition’s role in healing: After transplant, your body has increased nutritional needs to aid healing and fight infection. You also need to rebuild muscle tissue and restore protein levels. Your transplant dietitian develops an eating plan specific to your needs to boost your recovery and keep you healthy after transplant. We can also help you manage coexisting medical complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Medication After Kidney Transplant

As a transplant recipient, you need to take antirejection medications, or immunosuppressants, for the rest of your life. We know this can take some time to get used to. Our transplant team helps you manage and understand all your medications. After transplant surgery, it’s important to remember:

  • You are at higher risk for infection: To keep your body from rejecting the transplanted kidney, antirejection medications suppress your immune system. As a result, you are more prone to infection, especially during the first three to six months after transplant.
  • You should watch for side effects: Carefully monitor and report any unusual side effects to your nurse coordinator. Ask your nurse coordinator or doctor any questions you have about your particular medication.

Signs of Kidney Rejection

It’s important you follow all medication regimens and doctors’ instructions to prevent organ rejection, which could occur at any time. Early signs of kidney rejection include:

  • Pain or tenderness over your kidney transplant
  • Fatigue/weakness
  • Fever
  • Less urine output than usual
  • Swelling of hands or feet
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Elevated blood pressure

If you experience any of these signs of rejection, call your transplant nurse coordinator immediately. We need to treat rejection as soon as possible to avoid complications. Rejection doesn’t necessarily mean you will lose your new kidney. Often, we are able to give you medication to treat rejection effectively.

Sometimes you do not have any signs or symptoms of rejection. Our team can detect rejection by reviewing your lab results. It is critically important that you continue to have monthly labs drawn as long as you have a functioning kidney transplant. The earlier rejection is identified and treated, the greater the chance of reducing long-tern damage. 

Signs and Symptoms After Kidney Transplant

In addition to early rejection signs, you should also watch for other unusual symptoms. By knowing the warning signs, you can better protect yourself from complications after transplant. Call your transplant coordinator anytime if you experience:

  • Fluid retention or a bloated feeling
  • A cough that produces a yellowish or greenish substance, or a dry cough lasting longer than a week
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Medication problems, including missed doses
  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Rash or other skin change
  • Vaginal discharge or itching
  • Black stools, red or rust-colored urine, or burning discomfort during urination
  • Exposure to mumps, measles, chicken pox or shingles
  • Unusual weakness or light-headedness
  • Emergency room treatment or hospitalization

Contact Us

For more information about the kidney transplant program at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center, call 855.925.0631.