Transplant surgery has saved many lives, and restored the quality of life to many more patients. The first successful organ transplant was a kidney transplant in 1954; a transplant in 1950 failed due to rejection. These days, the success rate for organ transplants is high, and improved immunosuppressive therapy and more sophisticated methods of tissue matching have minimised the dangers of organ rejection. However, there are still risks associated with organ tranplantation, which patients and their relatives should be aware of.
Even with the benefit of anti-rejection drug therapy, the body can and sometimes does reject the new organ. It’s a foreign body, after all. 25% of heart transplant patients have signs of rejection during the first year after surgery. Unless the donated organ is from an identical twin, the risk of rejection is ever present.
The risk of disease from the new organ
Because there are never enough organs to supply the demand for them, some medical teams are using ‘expanded criteria’ and accepting organs from older donors, or those who may have a history of other medical problems. If a donor decides to accept one of these organs, there is a chance that they may develop a new disease after curing an existing one. While some patients may decide that they are prepared to take that risk, they need to know exactly what could happen if they receive an inferior organ.
These are infections that can activate when the body’s immune system is weakened by illness or compromised by immunosuppressive therapy, as is the case with organ transplants. Transplant patients have an increased risk of skin cancer, which is often more aggressive after an organ transplant, and can recur after treatment.
Oral health problems
Anti-rejection drugs and the general medical condition of the transplant patient can increase the risk of mouth infections such as gum disease, ulcers, and even mouth cancer. Dental monitoring is a must, both before and after transplant surgery. Many people are unaware of the impact a transplant can have on oral health, and while this may seem minor in relation to the potential failure of a vital organ, it needs to be considered.
These are just some of the risks associated with organ transplantation, There are others, including the risk of an allergic reaction to anaesthesia, and the risk of post operative infection. The transplant patient needs to weigh up the risks against the benefits in order to make an informed decision. In order to do this, the medical team should disclose all possible risks. While an organ transplant can give a new lease of life to the recipient, it is not without its problems.