Possible Complications of Kidney Transplantation

Transplantation is the closest thing to a cure. But no matter how good the match is, your body may reject your new kidney. A common cause of rejection is, not taking medication as prescribed. Your doctor will give you drugs called immuno-suppressants to help prevent your body's immune system from attacking the kidney, a process called rejection. You'll need to take immuno-suppressants every day for as long as the transplanted kidney is functioning. Sometimes, however, even these drugs can't stop your body from rejecting the new kidney. If this happens, you will have to go back to some form of dialysis and possibly have to wait for another transplant.

Side effects of immuno-suppressants

Regular intake of the immuno-suppressants is essential for the ‘survival’ of your new kidney. Those medications first make organ transplantation possible. However, they also may have side effects. Your transplant team will advise you, as to how you can contribute to avoid or diminish side effects.

Immuno-suppressants work by diminishing the ability of immune cells to function. This weakens your immune system to a certain degree, which is depending on the required dose of the immuno-suppressants. Particularly during the first months after transplantation there is a high risk to get infections, because in this time a higher dose of the immuno-suppressants is needed [1].

Some drugs may also change your appearance. You may gain weight or develop acne. Over long periods of time, the diminished immunity can increase the risk of developing cancer (mainly skin cancer and cancer of the lymphatic system). Some immuno-suppressants can cause cataracts, diabetes, extra stomach acid, high blood pressure and bone disease. When taken over a long period of time, these drugs may also cause liver or kidney damage to a few patients.

Measures to avoid side effects of immuno-suppressants: Wear gloves while gardening to protect you from infection. Pay attention to sun protection (hat, long shirt, lotion with high protection factor) to avoid skin cancer [2].

How can you help prevent side effects of immuno-suppressants?

To diminish the risk of infection, you can do several things, for example:

  • During the first months after transplantation it is useful to follow a germ-free diet
  • When performing your personal hygiene, thoroughly follow the instructions of your transplant team! Avoid injuries when cutting your nails! 
  • Wear gloves while gardening (outdoor and indoor), because flower soil contains many germs (which are only harmful to immune-compromised people)!


To reduce the risk of long-term complications, consider the following advice:

Content last updated
  1. Kuhlmann U, Walb D, Böhler J, Luft FC: Nephrologie. Thieme, 5th edition, 2008.
  2. www.transplantation-verstehen.de (last visited 02.04.2010)