After lung transplant surgery, you'll remain in the intensive care unit for around 1 to 5 days.
You will be given pain relief, which may include an epidural (a type of local anaesthetic) for pain relief and will be connected to a ventilator to help your breathing.
You'll be carefully monitored so the transplant team can check your body is accepting the new organ.
Monitoring will include blood tests and having your oxygen levels, blood pressure and temperature checked regularly.
The transplant team will be able to see whether your body is rejecting the lung from the results of these tests.
If it is, you'll be given additional treatment to reverse the process.
When your condition is stable, you'll be moved to a high dependency ward, where you may stay for a few weeks.
You'll probably be discharged from hospital 2 to 3 weeks after surgery and asked to stay near the transplant centre for a month so you can have regular check-ups.
At first, you will usually need to attend appointments twice a week. As you recover, you will need fewer check-ups.
After that, for the rest of your life you'll need to be seen at the transplant centre every 3 to 6 months.
The recovery process
It usually takes at least 3 to 6 months to fully recover from transplant surgery.
For the first 6 weeks after surgery, avoid pushing, pulling or lifting anything heavy.
You'll be encouraged to take part in a rehabilitation programme involving exercises to build up your strength.
You should be able to drive again 6 to 8 weeks after your transplant, once your chest wound has healed and you feel well enough.
Depending on the type of job you do, you'll be able to return to work around 4 to 5 months after surgery.
You'll need to take immunosuppressant medicines, which weaken your immune system so your body does not try to reject the new organ.
You'll need to take immunosuppressant therapy for the rest of your life.
Most transplant centres use the following combination of immunosuppressants:
- mycophenolate mofetil
The downside of taking immunosuppressants is that they can cause a wide range of side effects, including:
- mood changes, such as depression or anxiety
- swollen gums
- bruising or bleeding more easily
- extra hair growth (hirsutism)
- weight gain
Your doctor will try to find an immunosuppressant dose that's high enough to dampen the immune system, but low enough that you experience few side effects. This may take several months to achieve.
Even if your side effects become troublesome, you should never suddenly stop taking your medicine as your lungs could be rejected.
Long-term use of immunosuppressants also increases your risk of developing other health conditions, such as kidney disease.
Find out more about the risks associated with long-term immunosuppressants use
Having a weakened immune system is known as being immunocompromised.
If you're immunocompromised, you'll need to take extra precautions against infection.
- practise good personal hygiene – take daily baths or showers and make sure that clothes, towels and bed linen are washed regularly
- avoid contact with people with infections that could seriously affect you, such as chickenpox or flu
- wash your hands regularly with soap and hot water, particularly after going to the toilet and before preparing food and eating meals
- take extra care not to cut or graze your skin – if you do, clean the area thoroughly with warm water, dry it and cover it with a sterile dressing
- keep up to date with regular immunisations – your transplant centre will supply you with all the relevant details
You should also look out for any initial signs that may indicate you have an infection. A minor infection could quickly turn into a major one.
Tell a GP or your transplant centre immediately if you have symptoms of an infection, such as:
- a high temperature
- a headache
- aching muscles
Page last reviewed: 21 December 2022
Next review due: 21 December 2025