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After Pancreas Transplant: What to Expect

At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center, our patient survival rates for pancreas transplant consistently meet or exceed national averages. These excellent outcomes are partly because of our thorough and expert care after your surgery. 

Our doctors, posttransplant nurse coordinators and other specialists guide you through the recovery process and provide follow-up care for the life of the transplant. We prescribe and manage medications to prevent organ rejection, called immunosuppressants, and monitor you for signs of organ rejection. We also work to prevent infection and teach you to recognize the signs of infection.

To learn more about the earlier steps in the transplant process, read about pancreas transplant surgery and what to expect before pancreas transplant.

Pancreas Transplant Recovery

You will not need to take insulin after transplant because your new pancreas produces the insulin your body needs. If you had kidney failure and received a new kidney along with a new pancreas, you will not need chronic dialysis. 

After pancreas transplant surgery, you can expect to stay in the hospital for a week to 10 days. During your hospital stay, your transplant specialists meet with you as a team to monitor your recovery and answer any questions you may have. You also see physical therapists to help you regain your strength.

During recovery, regular exercise can help you return to a normal, active routine. However, you should avoid strenuous activity and heavy lifting for the first six months after transplant. Most patients are ready to return to work or school within two to three months, although it may take longer to build your energy and endurance.

Good nutrition is also important to aid healing and fight infection. Your dietitian develops an eating plan specific to your health needs.

Follow-Up Care After Pancreas Transplant

We provide long-term follow-up care for the life of the transplant. Transplant physicians and a certified clinical transplant coordinator (CCTC) provide this care, partnering with your primary care physician, nephrologist and endocrinologist.

Even after you return home, a nurse coordinator is available 24/7 to answer any questions you may have.

After you leave the hospital, our team:

  • Tests your blood regularly for the first few weeks to check your blood sugar levels and pancreas function
  • Checks your incision to ensure it is healing well
  • Monitors you for signs of infection and organ rejection

If you live outside the St. Louis area, we can help you arrange temporary housing near the hospital for the first few weeks of observation. You need to return to Barnes-Jewish Hospital for monthly follow-up exams through the first year and then on an annual basis after that. Over time, we transition routine care to your primary care physician. 

Pancreas Transplant Medications

Because your body considers a transplanted pancreas to be a foreign object, your immune system’s natural response is to reject the organ. Our transplant team helps you avoid organ rejection by prescribing and monitoring the medications needed to suppress your immune system. These medications are called immunosuppressants.

Signs of Rejection

The risk of organ rejection decreases over time, but rejection can occur at any point after a transplant. It's important to follow your treatment plan and medication instructions to prevent rejection. Early signs of pancreas rejection include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • High blood sugar

If you’ve had a kidney-pancreas transplant, you should also be aware of early symptoms of kidney rejection:

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

If you experience any signs of rejection, call your transplant nurse coordinator immediately. It’s important to treat rejection as soon as possible to avoid complications. It is also possible to have a rejection without any signs or symptoms. These rejections can be detected through our lab results, which is why it is extremely important that you follow you lab schedule, even if you feel great. When rejection is caught early it can be treated and reversed. 

Preventing and Managing Infection 

Because your medications suppress your immune system, you are more prone to infection, especially during the first three to six months after transplant. Infectious disease experts are part of your transplant team and can prescribe medications to help prevent or treat infection.

Signs of infection can include:

  • Fever
  • Fluid retention or bloating
  • A cough that produces yellow or green phlegm or a dry cough that continues for more than one week
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea 
  • Rash or other skin change
  • Vaginal discharge or itching
  • Burning during urination or blood in the urine

Contact Us

For more information about pancreas transplant or to schedule a transplant evaluation, call 855.925.0631.