Early Signs of Kidney Rejection and What to Look Out For

Woman touching stomach for signs of kidney transplant rejection

Receiving a kidney transplant is a life-changing event that opens up a world of new opportunities for those who have struggled with kidney disease. However, after the immediate post-operative recovery, a new concern arises—the health of the transplant itself. Among the many elements of post-transplant care, vigilance for signs of kidney transplant rejection is paramount.

As you strive to build a new healthy lifestyle post-recovery, awareness of what could go wrong is as important as planning for things to go right. In this blog post, we’ll explore the early indicators that your body might be rejecting your new kidney and what to do if you recognize them.

Understanding Kidney Transplant Rejection

Kidney transplant rejection is when the recipient’s immune system recognizes the new organ as foreign and attempts to destroy it, just as it defends against invaders like bacteria and viruses. In the case of a kidney transplant, which is essentially a foreign object, the immune response against the transplanted kidney can manifest in two main types of rejection: acute and chronic.

Acute rejection is the body’s quick response to a new kidney, occurring either immediately or within several weeks after the transplant. Chronic rejection, which is less sudden, can occur over months or years and is a sign of ongoing, gradual damage to the kidney. Both types of rejection can have serious consequences if not detected early and treated promptly.

The Immune Response

When the immune system detects a foreign object—like a transplanted kidney—it launches an attack by producing antibodies. These antibodies cause inflammation in the kidney, which can lead to its dysfunction and, in severe cases, to transplant failure. Immunosuppressive medications can make a significant difference by limiting this reaction and may be needed indefinitely.

Early Signs of Kidney Transplant Rejection

Recognizing the early signs of kidney transplant rejection is crucial in preventing further complications. Here are the primary signs to watch out for:

  • Changes in Urination Patterns: An increased or decreased amount of urine could signify a problem. Changes in color, clarity, and odor may also be indicative of kidney distress.
  • Swelling and Weight Gain: When the kidney is not functioning properly, fluid can build up in the body, causing swelling, particularly in the legs and the area around the eyes. Weight gain can also be indicative of fluid retention due to kidney failure.
  • Flu-Like Symptoms: Symptoms such as chills, body aches, and a general feeling of illness may be the body’s response to the surge in inflammation during a potential rejection episode.
  • High Blood Pressure: Hypertension can be related to kidney dysfunction, and while it could be a pre-existing condition, sudden or uncontrolled high blood pressure should be addressed immediately.
  • Fatigue and Weakness: General fatigue that is not improved by rest could be a sign of anemia, a common side effect of renal failure.
  • Fever Over 101 Degrees F: A fever can be a symptom of acute rejection. If you experience a fever, it’s important to monitor it carefully.
  • New Pain or Discomfort Around the Transplant Site: This can take on various forms, such as tenderness, persistent pain, or even swelling, and should be evaluated promptly.

What to Do If You Experience These Symptoms

The best thing to do is promptly inform your healthcare provider. After a transplant, follow-up visits are key to monitoring your recovery and detecting kidney transplant rejection early. During check-ups, your medical team may conduct various tests, including blood work, urine analysis, and imaging studies like ultrasounds to examine the kidney’s structure and function.

If any early signs of rejection are suspected or if there is any doubt about the kidney’s health, your doctor may recommend a kidney biopsy, a procedure where a small piece of tissue is taken from the kidney and examined under a microscope to look for signs of rejection.

Is There a Way to Reduce the Risk of Kidney Transplant Rejection?

It’s important to adhere to your medication regimen, attend all scheduled follow-up visits, and communicate openly with your healthcare team. By doing so, you’ll not only be vigilant for signs of rejection but also actively reduce the risk.

Living a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, and avoiding potentially harmful substances such as tobacco and excessive alcohol, also contributes to your overall health and the longevity of your transplant.

Get the Help You Need at the Texas Kidney Institute

The Texas Kidney Institute is dedicated to providing the highest quality of care for kidney transplant recipients. If you or someone you know is struggling with chronic kidney disease and is seeking information about post-transplant recovery and maintenance, we are here to help. Contact us to learn more and get the quality specialized healthcare you need.