A lung transplant is a surgical procedure to replace a diseased or failing lung with a healthy lung, usually from a deceased donor. Depending on your medical condition, a lung transplant may involve replacing one of your lungs or both of them. In some situations, the lungs may be transplanted along with a donor heart.
What are the reasons for a lung transplant?
Unhealthy or damaged lungs can make it difficult for your body to get the oxygen it needs to survive. A variety of diseases and conditions can damage your lungs and hinder their ability to function effectively, including:
can often be treated with medication or with special breathing devices. But when these measures no longer help or your lung function becomes life-threatening, your doctor might suggest a lung transplant.
What are the risks involved in a lung transplant?
All procedures have some risks. The risks of this procedure may include:
- Blockage of the blood vessels to the new lung(s)
- Blockage of the airways
- Severe pulmonary edema (fluid in the lung)
- Blood clots
- Rejection of the new lung(s)
Rejection is major risk of transplant. This is a normal body reaction to a foreign object or tissue. When an organ is transplanted into a person's body, their immune system sees it as a threat and attacks the organ. To allow the transplanted organ
to survive in a new body, medicines are used to trick the immune system into not attacking the transplant. The medicines used to prevent or treat rejection have a lot of side effects. The exact side effects will depend on the specific medicines that are taken.
What can you expect during your lung transplant?
The procedure will be done with general anaesthesia
, so you will be unaware and won't feel any pain. Doctors will insert a tube through your mouth and into your windpipe to help you breathe. You will also have a tube in your nose down to your stomach to drain your stomach contents. A catheter will keep your bladder empty.
Your surgeon will make a cut in your chest to remove your diseased lung. The main airway to that lung and the blood vessels between that lung and your heart will then be connected to the donor lung. For some lung transplants
, you may be connected to a heart-lung machine, which circulates your blood during the operation.
A single-lung transplant takes about four to eight hours to complete, while a double-lung transplant usually takes six to 12 hours.
What can you expect after your lung transplant?
Immediately after the surgery, you'll spend several days in the hospital's intensive care unit. A mechanical ventilator will help you breathe for a few days, and tubes in your chest will drain fluids from around your lungs and heart.
A tube in a vein will deliver strong medications to control pain and to prevent rejection of your new lung. As your condition improves, you'll no longer need the mechanical ventilator and you'll be moved out of the intensive care unit. Recovery often involves a one- to three-week hospital stay.
After you're discharged from the hospital, you'll require about three months of frequent monitoring by the lung transplant team to prevent, detect and treat complications and to assess your lung function. Your follow-up visits may involve laboratory tests
, chest X-rays
, an electrocardiogram
(ECG) and checkups with a specialist.
Living a healthy lifestyle is key to sustaining your new lung. Smoking isn't allowed, and the use of alcohol is strictly limited. Following a nutritious diet
also can help you stay healthy.
Exercise is an extremely important part of rehabilitation after your lung transplant and will begin within days of your surgery. Your health care team will work with you to design an exercise program that's right for you.
Results of a lung transplant
A lung transplant can substantially improve your quality of life. The first year after the transplant - when surgical complications
, rejection and infection pose the greatest threats - is the most critical period. Although some people have lived 10 years or more after a lung transplant, only about half the people who undergo the procedure are still alive after five years.