Health and Fitness

8 Frequently Asked Questions about Pancreas Transplants

The pancreas is a vital organ in the lower abdomen that helps our bodies absorb nutrients from the food we eat. To aid in digestion, the pancreas secretes insulin—a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels by allowing glucose to enter the cells and provide energy. When the pancreas has insulin-related issues, as in the case of diabetic patients, glucose levels in the body will continue to rise. When left unregulated, high glucose levels may lead to severe complications like kidney damage, nerve damage, and blindness. 

People with diabetes, particularly type 1 diabetes, need daily insulin injections to keep their blood sugar levels balanced. However, some patients prefer receiving a pancreas from a human donor to manage their condition. After getting a pancreas transplant, diabetic patients no longer need insulin injections to maintain their glucose levels. 

If you or a loved one intend to have a pancreas transplant soon, you may want to raise a few questions before moving forward with the procedure. In this article, we’ll answer some of the most common queries that you probably have when it comes to pancreas transplants.

Is a Pancreas Transplant Right for Me?

Apart from type 1 diabetics, those with chronic pancreatitis are also typically approved for a pancreas transplant. You are also eligible if you suffer from severely low blood sugar levels that cannot be controlled with insulin. If you are diabetic and have kidney-related issues, your doctor may allow you to get a simultaneous pancreas-kidney (SPK) or pancreas after kidney (PAK) transplant. SPKs are some of the most commonly performed pancreas transplants, comprising around 70 percent of such surgeries.

Patients who may not get approved for a transplant include type 2 diabetics and those with a mild case of type 1 diabetes. Patients with the former condition do not benefit from a new pancreas since this type of diabetes involves the body’s use of insulin rather than how much of the hormone is being produced.

What Are the Chances of Post-Surgery Success?

Thanks to improvements in surgical procedures and medicines, pancreas transplants are now less life-threatening. According to a recent study, the ten-year survival rate for patients who received a pancreas transplant is around 92.4 percent. Furthermore, the chances of achieving long-term optimal graft function are at 57.4 percent. This means it’s highly likely for you to achieve insulin independence and no longer need injections after surgery.

When Can I Stop Taking Insulin?

After the operation, you may need to remain in the hospital and take minimal levels of insulin to prevent the new organ from getting overwhelmed. Typically, your new pancreas will start producing enough insulin right away that you can be taken off insulin by the time you get home.

Will a Transplant Prevent Other Diabetes Complications?

Aside from balancing out your blood sugar levels, a functional pancreas can also prevent long-term diabetes complications. A new pancreas can protect against diabetes-induced kidney disease and retinopathy, which is a degenerative eye disease that affects the retina. Your new organ can additionally help you manage peripheral neuropathy (damage to the peripheral nerves) resulting from diabetes and prevent vascular disease caused by the same condition.

What Are the Medicines I Need to Take?

Anti-rejection medications or immunosuppressants are essential medicines that all organ transplant recipients must take every day. In addition to these, your doctor may recommend other medicines to mitigate fluid retention, control your blood pressure, and prevent infection. Over time, your doctor may allow you to decrease the dosage of your anti-rejection medicines.

What Kind of Diet Should I Have after Surgery?

Transplant recipients must be mindful of the food they eat since they are also taking immunosuppressants, which prevent the cells from attacking the new organ. As such, it’s best to avoid undercooked or raw meat and fish—including raw shellfish, sushi, and sashimi. Experts also don’t recommend ingesting grapefruit, which counters the effects of your anti-rejection medicine, and food made from raw eggs such as eggnog and cookie dough. On top of that, it would be ideal to ensure a moderate intake of sugar as well as food with low nutritional value.

Is It Okay to Exercise after My Transplant?

It depends. If you intend to do strenuous exercises like weightlifting, jogging, or contact sports, it’s best to wait for about two months until your new organ fully acclimates to your body. That said, you can perform normal activities and mild exercises once you start feeling comfortable after your surgery. Good exercises to do include climbing a few steps and walking just to maintain your muscle tone. Generally, your doctor will let you know once it’s safe to drive, travel, or return to work or school.

What Post-operation Complications Should I Watch Out For?

There may be instances when your body’s immune system rejects the new pancreas and attacks it. After undergoing surgery, you should watch out for rejection signs such as pancreatitis (inflamed pancreas), infection, thrombosis (blood clots in the pancreas), and hernia or tears in the incision area.  

Early detection of these symptoms and post-surgical health monitoring is the main reason why you need to have regular check-ups with your doctor for the first six months. After that, you can make visits less frequent and take more responsibility for your managing condition.

Surgery Doesn’t Have to Be Worrisome

Getting a pancreas transplant is a big leap, but you don’t have to let your worries keep you from making a potentially life-saving decision. With the help of trusted medical experts, you can dispel long-held anxieties and make informed choices on how to best deal with your condition. As long as you stay informed and adhere to proper care practices, you can make the most of your treatment and enjoy a better quality of life in the long run.

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