A lung transplant is an effective treatment for disease that has destroyed most of the lungs’ function. For people with severe lung disease, a transplant can bring back easier breathing and provide years of life. However, lung transplant surgery has major risks and complications are common.
When a lung transplant is needed
A person has advanced lung disease that isn’t responding to other methods of treatment.
A person’s life expectancy is thought to be less than two to three years without a transplant.
Types of Lung transplant
A single lung transplant – where a single damaged lung is removed from the recipient and replaced with a lung from the donor; this is often used to treat pulmonary fibrosis, but it isn’t suitable for people with cystic fibrosis because infection will spread from the remaining lung to the donated lung.
A double lung transplant – where both lungs are removed and replaced with two donated lungs; this is usually the main treatment option for people with cystic fibrosis or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
A heart-lung transplant – where the heart and both lungs are removed and replaced with a donated heart and lungs; this is often recommended for people with severe pulmonary hypertension.
Why a Lung Transplant is Done
A lung transplant is considered the last option for treating lung failure. Other treatments and lifestyle changes will almost always be tried first.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
What are the risks of a lung transplant?
Blood clots (deep venous thrombosis)
Diabetes, bone thinning, or high cholesterol levels from the medicines given after a transplant
Increased risk for infections due to anti-rejection (immunosuppression) medicines
Damage to your kidneys, liver, or other organs from anti-rejection medicines
Future risk of certain cancers
Problems at the place where the new blood vessels and airways were attached
Rejection of the new lung, which may happen right away, within the first 4 to 6 weeks, or over time
Side Effects of Lung Transplant
A lung transplant can result in a number of complications and many common side effects can occur as a result of taking anti-rejection medications. Potential complication include bleeding, infection, blocked blood vessels leading to the new lung(s), blocked airways, fluid in the lung(s) (edema), and blood clots.
Common anti-rejection medications taken after a transplant – and for the rest of the patient’s life – include cyclosporine, tacrolimus, sirolimus, prednisone, azathioprine and mycophenolate mofetil. These medications are taken to trick the immune system into accepting the transplanted organ and to stop the immune system from attacking the organ. In order to accomplish this, the medications also lower the body’s resistance to infection and certain types of cancer.