Lung transplants are used to improve the quality of life and extend the lifespan for people who have severe or advanced chronic lung conditions. In rare instances, a lung transplant may be performed at the same time as a heart transplant in patients who have severe heart and lung disease.
You may be eligible for lung transplant surgery if you have severe lung disease that does not respond to other treatments. If you are otherwise healthy enough for surgery, you will be placed on the National Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network’s waiting list. This network handles the nation’s organ-sharing process. If a match is found, you will need to have your lung transplant surgery right away.
This surgery will be performed in a hospital. You will have general anesthesia and will not be awake for the surgery. Tubes will help you breathe, give you medicine, and help with other bodily functions. A surgeon will open your chest, cut the main airway and blood vessels, and remove your diseased lung. The surgeon will connect the healthy donor lung, reconnect the blood vessels, and close your chest.
After the surgery, you will recover in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) before moving to a hospital room for one to three weeks. Your doctor may recommend pulmonary rehabilitation after your lung transplant surgery to help you regain and improve your breathing. Pulmonary rehabilitation may include exercise training, education, and counseling. Pulmonary function tests will help doctors monitor your breathing and recovery. After leaving the hospital, you will visit your doctor often to check for infection or rejection of your new lung, to test your lung function, and to make sure that you are recovering well.
The first year after lung transplant surgery is when you are most at risk for possibly life-threatening complications such as rejection and infection. To help prevent rejection, you will need to take medicines for the rest of your life that suppress your immune system and help prevent your body from rejecting your new lungs. These important medicines weaken your immune system and increase your chance for infections, and over time they can increase your risk for cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and kidney damage. Practicing good hygiene, obtaining routine vaccines, and adopting healthy lifestyle choices such as heart-healthy eating and not smoking are very important. Getting emotional support and following your doctor’s advice will help you recover and stay as healthy as possible.
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The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) leads or sponsors many studies aimed at preventing, diagnosing, and treating heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders.