Most people feel better and live longer after having a kidney transplant, but unwanted health problems can happen. Some health problems are common (like infections), and some are less likely to happen but can have a big impact on your life.
Infections are caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi. After a kidney transplant, you’ll be taking medicines that weaken your immune system. This helps keep your body from fighting against your new kidney. It also puts you at a higher risk of infection since your immune system can’t fight off infections as easily.
You’ll need to take extra steps to prevent infections for the rest of your life, especially for the first several months after your transplant.
To help prevent an infection:
- wash your hands often
- stay away from crowded areas, especially during flu season
- keep your immunizations up to date as directed by your transplant team
- avoid unpasteurized dairy products and uncooked meat and fish
After a kidney transplant, you have a higher risk of developing certain infections caused by viruses (called viral infections). Some viral infections can lead to serious health problems.
You may have had a certain type of infection in the past, but you may develop it again because some of the medicines you take weaken your immune system. This means your immune system may not be strong enough to fight the infection. The transplant team will watch you closely for signs of an infection and prescribe an antiviral medicine if you need it.
A couple of viral infections you’ll be watched for after having a kidney transplant include:
Other types of infections
You also have a higher risk for infections caused by:
- bacteria – such as urinary tract infections or pneumonia
- fungal infections – such as Candida (yeast infection)
Fungal infections can happen in your mouth. To lower your risk of getting this kind of infection it’s important to keep doing excellent mouth care. This includes brushing your teeth at least 2 times a day and flossing at least once a day. Visit your dentist regularly.
Your transplant team will talk to you about your risk of infections, and more about what you can do to stop them, during your appointments.
Diabetes is a health condition that develops when your body doesn’t make enough insulin or when your body is resistant to insulin (can’t use insulin properly). This causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to be too high in your body. Insulin is a hormone that lowers blood glucose.
The medicines you take after a transplant put you at higher risk of developing diabetes. For some, diabetes will only last for a short time. But others will have diabetes for the rest of their lives and may need medicines to help manage it. Go to
Nutrition after your transplant to learn more about managing your blood glucose levels.
If you have diabetes before your kidney transplant, the transplant might make your diabetes harder to control. The transplant team will work with you to help you manage your diabetes or refer you to a doctor who specializes in diabetes management such as an
The immunosuppressant medicines you take after your transplant may increase the risk of some types of cancer, such as skin cancer and cervical cancer. Some cancers, such as lymphoma, are also linked to viral infections. The earlier any cancer is found, the easier it is to treat. To help lower your risk of developing cancer:
- talk to your family doctor about cancer screening
- limit your time in the sun to help prevent skin cancer – use sunscreen, wear a hat, and long sleeves to help protect your skin when you do spend time in the sun
check your skin for changes and get your skin checked by your healthcare team
- stop smoking – if you need help, go to
After a kidney transplant, there is a risk that your body will reject the new kidney. Rejection can happen at any time. Rejection is most common in the first 6 months after having the transplant.
Rejection happens in 10% to 15% of recipients who are not sensitized. When it’s caught early, rejection can be treated to help prevent the loss of the transplanted kidney. To help prevent rejection, you’ll take medicines that weaken your immune system (called immunosuppressants). It’s very important to
take these medicines as prescribed by your transplant team to lower the risk of rejection. You’ll be on these medicines as long as you have your transplant because rejection can happen at any time, even years after your transplant.
Signs and symptoms of rejection
You may not know that your body is rejecting your new kidney. You may not have any symptoms.
Some signs and symptoms of rejection include:
- changes to your blood test results, such as a higher creatinine level
- protein in your urine (pee)
- a fever or not feeling well
- the skin and tissue around the new kidney are sore and tender
Not everyone will have symptoms and often the only way to know if your body is rejecting a kidney is through blood tests.
What happens if your body rejects your new kidney?
If your transplant team thinks your body may be rejecting your new kidney, you’ll likely need a kidney biopsy. If the biopsy shows that you are rejecting the kidney, your healthcare team will usually give you a high dose of immunosuppressants (anti-rejection) through an intravenous (IV). This medicine will try to stop your immune system from attacking your new kidney.
It’s important to contact your transplant team right away if you don’t feel well or you have changes to your overall health after a kidney transplant.