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Alternative Names Return to topGraft rejection; Tissue/organ rejection
Definition Return to top
Transplant rejection is when a transplant recipient's immune system attacks a transplanted organ or tissue. See also graft-versus-host disease.
Causes Return to top
Your body's immune system protects you from potentially harmful substances, such as microorganisms, toxins, and cancer cells. These harmful substances have proteins called antigens on their surfaces. If your immune system identifies antigens that are foreign (not part of your body), it will attack them.
In the same way, foreign blood or tissue can trigger a blood transfusion reaction or transplant rejection. To help prevent this, tissue is "typed" before the transplant procedure to identify the antigens it contains.
Though tissue typing ensures that the organ or tissue is as similar as possible to the tissues of the recipient, the match is usually not perfect. No two people (except identical twins) have identical tissue antigens.
Immunosuppressive drugs are needed to prevent organ rejection. Otherwise, organ and tissue transplantation would almost always cause an immune response and result in destruction of the foreign tissue.
There are some exceptions, however. Corneal transplants are rarely rejected because corneas have no blood supply -- immune cells and antibodies do not reach the cornea to cause rejection. In addition, transplants from one identical twin to another are almost never rejected.
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
The doctor will feel the area over and around the transplanted organ, which may feel tender to you (particularly with transplanted kidneys).
There are often signs that the organ isn't functioning properly. For example:
A biopsy of the transplanted organ can confirm that it is being rejected. A routine biopsy is often performed to detect rejection early, before symptoms develop.
When organ rejection is suspected, one or more of the following tests may be performed prior to organ biopsy:
Treatment Return to top
The goal of treatment is to make sure the transplanted organ or tissue functions properly, while at the same time suppressing the recipient's immune response. Suppressing the immune response can treat and prevent transplant rejection.
Many different drugs can be used to suppress the immune response. The dosage of the medication depends on the patient's status. The dose may be very high while the tissue is actually being rejected, and then reduced to a lower level to prevent it from happening again.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Some organs and tissues are more successfully transplanted than others. If rejection begins, immunosuppressive drugs may stop the rejection. Then, you must take immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of your life.
However, immunosuppressive treatment is not always successful.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if the transplanted organ or tissue does not seem to be working properly or if other symptoms occur. Also, call your health care provider if medication side effects develop.
Prevention Return to top
ABO blood typing and HLA (tissue antigen) typing before transplantation helps to ensure a close match. Suppressing the immune system is usually necessary for the rest of the transplant recipient's life to prevent the tissue from being rejected. Being careful to take post-transplant medications properly, and being closely monitored by your doctor may help prevent rejection.Update Date: 4/16/2009 Updated by: David A. Kaufman, MD, Section Chief, Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, Bridgeport Hospital-Yale New Haven Health System, and Assistant Clinical Professor, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.