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Why Can Your Body Reject Organ Transplants?

Posted by Reliant Renal Care

For millions of people, organ transplantation has been a godsend. With the help of a donor, someone suffering from liver damage, kidney failure, or any other serious organ problem, can receive a brand new organ in a transplant and continue living their life – something that would have been unthinkable before the advent of transplant surgeries. For many, though, the transplant picture is far less clear cut. While it is a lifesaving procedure when it works, sometimes the recipient’s body will reject the donor organ, a scary prospect that can prove life threatening in some cases. But why can your body reject an organ transplant? And what happens when it does?

What Happens During Rejection

It all starts with the immune system. While it’s a critical system for protecting the body from illnesses, pathogens, and foreign objects, sometimes the immune system works a little too well – and that spells bad news for organ transplants.
Germs, poisons, foreign objects, and even cancer cells are coated in a layer of proteins called antigens, which your body uses to identify them as a foreign (and dangerous) presence. As soon as these objects enter the body, the immune system registers the antigens as not from the body and begins to attack the object. When the object is a dangerous virus or a poison, this is well and good. But sometimes, that foreign object is a transplanted organ – and the immune system begins to attack that which would save the entire body.

Types of Organ Rejection

It’s worth noting here that while rejection can be extremely dangerous, organ rejection occurs along a continuum. All patients experience some form of rejection, and for most it all works out fine: some 97% of kidney transplants are successful within the first year, and still 83% are successful three years on. There are three main types of organ rejection:

  • Hyperacute Rejection: This occurs within minutes of the transplant and is the most serious form of rejection. Removing the tissue immediately is critical, as keeping it in may threaten the patient’s life.
  • Acute Rejection: All patients experience some kind of acute rejection, which can start anywhere from the first week to 3 months after the transplant. It may or may not be serious enough to warrant removing the organ.
  • Chronic Rejection: The most common reason for failures of transplants, chronic rejection can take place over years. It’s the result of the constant pressure of the body’s immune response to the organ, which can damage the organ’s function over time.

What Happens When the Body Rejects an Organ?

In most cases, organ rejection isn’t synonymous with catastrophe. Many patients experience a small degree of acute rejection and go on to be perfectly healthy once the body adapts to the new organ. For those that do experience more serious, chronic rejection, however, symptoms can take a number of forms:

  • Decrease in the function of the organ
  • Pain or swelling around the organ
  • A general feeling of unease or discomfort
  • Flu-like symptoms such nausea, body aches, chills, or a cough

While organ rejection is rare, particularly for kidney transplants, it’s crucial for patients to be mindful of the possibility and to keep close tabs on their body following a transplant surgery. Keeping a watchful eye for symptoms like these can help to minimize damage from a rejection, ensuring the best possible chance at a successful transplant surgery and limiting the risk of complications from rejection.

Contact Your Media, PA Renal Care Facility

If you’re struggling with kidney disease, kidney failure, or are on the waitlist for a kidney transplant, Reliant Renal Care can help. We take pride in combining expert treatment with a warm sense of patient care, and we make your overall health and well-being our number one priority. If you’re interested in finding out more about our services or starting an in-center or at-home dialysis program, we encourage you to call us at 610.892.4700, send us an email at [email protected], or reach out to us at our contact page. We hope you’ve found this blog helpful, and we look forward to hearing from you soon!