For the 300,000 Americans on dialysis, a kidney transplant is the light at the end of the tunnel. Still, transplant surgery is not the end but rather the beginning of a complicated process. Although medications can help prevent kidney rejection, these medications are not fool-proof, and in many cases the body will eventually attack the kidney like it would an infection. In fact, 10 years after surgery, about half of kidney transplants are lost.
For this reason, regular and careful monitoring of a transplant after surgery is critically important to the early detection and treatment of rejection. Early detection and treatment vastly improve the odds of a kidney lasting a long time.
The good news is that over the last few years, scientists and physicians have discovered new blood tests to monitor kidney transplant health. One test looks for cell-free DNA from the donor in the recipient’s blood stream. This can indicate damage to the donated kidney and is an early, reliable sign of rejection. Scientists have also developed gene-expression tests and other blood tests that give a more complete and detailed view of the health of a transplant.
None of the tests substitute for the most important aspect of caring for a kidney transplant – taking the medications. Patients who skip anti-rejection medications, even occasionally, are at a much higher risk of losing the kidney due to rejection. A kidney transplant is a precious gift that must be cared for and cherished. With the right attitude, appropriate clinical care, and careful follow-up, a kidney transplant can last forever.