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A lung transplant is a type of surgical procedure that can potentially help patients with severe lung disease regain their quality of life. However, it can also be risky and can lead to complications. Many people with severe lung disease are considered for a transplant, but only a relatively small percentage of individuals qualify.

Some of the common conditions that people with lung disease can undergo a transplant for include lung fibrosis or scarring, cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A transplant can involve replacing one or both of the lungs. 

How to Prepare for a Lung Transplant

Getting a lung transplant is a complex process. After a patient is referred to a transplant center, a team of doctors and support staff gather information about the patient’s condition and other factors. This usually takes place over several visits. Besides the patient’s health status, the team also takes into account the individual’s family and personal situation.

During a lung transplant evaluation, a variety of tests are reviewed or obtained. Some of these include pulmonary function testing, radiographic studies, various cardiac tests and a number of blood chemistries. Usually, doctors won’t perform a lung transplant if the patient has other conditions that are severe enough to prevent them from getting a healthy new lung. Some of these conditions may include cancer, alcohol abuse, and kidney disease. If there is significant heart disease, the patient may be considered for a combined lung-heart transplant. Before a lung transplant can take place, patients might need to make certain lifestyle changes, which may include quitting smoking and alcohol and improving fitness (through pulmonary rehab).

Going on the Transplant List

After the various tests and interviews are completed, the patient’s suitability of obtaining a lung transplant are considered. If they meet acceptable criteria, they will then be placed on the national and regional transplant lists. Those with higher scores will be given priority.

What Occurs During a Lung Transplant?

When a suitable donor’s lungs become available, the candidate will be contacted to prepare for the surgery. During this process, the surgical team members often go to the deceased donor’s location to examine their lungs to make sure that they are appropriate to be used for a transplant. If they are still usable, the surgery on the recipient will then proceed.

Recovering From a Lung Transplant

Depending on the patient’s condition, the recovery time following a lung transplant can vary. However, most patients can expect to be able to recover to a significant extent in about two to three weeks. After a lung transplant, the weeks following the operation are usually filled with activities designed to ensure the patient’s long-term success.

One of the major risks that patients undergoing transplantation face when it comes to receiving a new organ is rejection. This happens when the body’s immune system attacks the new organ. To prevent this, certain medicines are used to prevent the rejection of the organ, such as tacrolimus or mycophenolate.