A lung transplant can improve your quality of life and extend your lifespan. The first year after the transplant is the most critical. This is when the risk of complications is highest.
In recent years, short-term survival after lung transplant has improved. Recent data on single-lung transplants show that:
Survival rates for double-lung transplants are slightly better. Recent data show that the median survival for single-lung recipients is 4.6 years. The median survival for double-lung recipients is 6.6 years. Talk with your doctor about what these figures may mean for you.
The major complications of lung transplant are rejection and infection.
Your immune system will regard your new lung as a "foreign object." It will create antibodies (proteins) against the lung. This may cause your body to reject the new organ.
To prevent this, your doctor will prescribe medicines to suppress your immune system. You’ll need to take these medicines for the rest of your life.
Rejection is most common in the first 6 months after surgery, but it can happen any time after the transplant. Rejection can happen slowly or suddenly. Your doctor will teach you how to spot possible signs and symptoms of rejection. If you know these signs and symptoms, you can seek treatment right away.
Signs and symptoms of rejection include:
If you have any of these signs or symptoms, seek medical care. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to treat the rejection and prevent complications.
These medicines may cause side effects, such as headaches, nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), and flu-like symptoms. If you have side effects, tell your doctor. He or she may change your medicines or adjust the doses.
The medicines you take to prevent the rejection of your new lung may weaken your immune system. As a result, you're more likely to get infections.
While you're in the hospital, staff will take special steps to prevent you from getting infections. After you leave the hospital, you also can take steps to prevent infections:
Long-term use of medicines that suppress the immune system can cause diabetes, kidney damage, and osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). These medicines also can increase the risk of cancer. Talk with your doctor about the long-term risks of using these medicines.
The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.