Taking medicines after an organ transplant

After your transplant, you will take medicines to help prevent organ rejection. You may also take other medications to treat infection and manage other conditions such as cholesterol and blood pressure. It is important to take your medicine as prescribed by your transplant team. Doing so may include:

The dose of your medicine

How many times per day
you take your medicine

What time during the day
you take your medicine

Before taking anything that has not been prescribed for you, including over-the-counter medications or supplements, ask your doctor. He or she will be able to tell you if it is okay to take those medicines.

Anti-rejection (immunosuppressive) medicines

After your transplant (and sometimes before), in order to keep your body from rejecting your transplanted organ your doctor will prescribe anti-rejection or immunosuppressive medicines to calm (or suppress) your immune system. These medicines are critical to the success of your transplant.

Taking all of your medicines as instructed may help you prevent rejection episodes.

Ensure you take the right amount of each medicine you have been prescribed

Take every dose at the right time

Remember to take your medicines with or without food, as directed by your transplant team

Try not to miss a single dose

If you miss multiple doses, remember to call your transplant team right away. Ask if you have questions about how and when to take your medicine.

Gastrointestinal side effects of anti-rejection or immunosuppressive medicines

Advice on nausea and vomiting

If you have nausea or vomiting, the following tips may help reduce any symptoms you may have. Remember to always check with your doctor or pharmacist before making any changes. He or she will be able to tell you which of these tips are okay for you to try.

  • Try to drink small amounts of clear liquids, such as clear-colored sodas, water, and broth
  • Limit your intake of milk products, since they can make your nausea and vomiting worse
  • Try to eat light, bland, and soft foods such as gelatin, oatmeal, or yogurt, and return to liquids if the nausea and vomiting return

Seek emergency medical attention and contact your transplant team if you experience:

  • Nausea or vomiting with severe stomach pain
  • Continuous vomiting
  • Blood in your vomit
  • Vomiting, fever, bleeding, a known head injury, or known heart disease

It is a good idea to be on the lookout for signs of dehydration, which include thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, weakness, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, confusion, or tiredness.

Advice on diarrhea

Diarrhea may be a side effect of your medicine, but it may also be a sign of a viral infection. Symptoms of diarrhea include loose, watery stools, often accompanied by stomach cramps.

According to the International Transplant Nurses Society, some of the things that may help to prevent dehydration and reduce any symptoms of diarrhea you may have include:

  • Rehydrate with water or sports drinks (like Gatorade®) that can replace your body’s salts and electrolytes
  • Try to avoid milk and other dairy products, high-fat and fried foods, and foods and juices high in sugar
  • Avoid strenuous exercise

If you are experiencing any symptoms of diarrhea, it is important that you talk to your doctor for advice before trying any of these tips. You must also call your doctor or transplant team if you have diarrhea along with any of the following:

  • High fever, moderate to severe abdominal pain, dehydration, blood in the stool, or vomiting
  • Additional kidney, liver, or heart problems, diabetes, or HIV or AIDS
  • Symptoms that continue for 2 to 3 days

Gatorade® is a registered trademark of Stokely-Van Camp, Inc.
Tips for preventing dehydration and reducing symptoms of diarrhea according to the International Transplant Nurses Society, www.harthosp.org/Portals/1/Images/27/GISideEffects.pdf, accessed October 14, 2014.

Advice on indigestion and heartburn

Indigestion may occur when you have eaten something that causes a feeling of discomfort in your stomach or intestines. Heartburn can occur when stomach acids back up into your food pipe (esophagus). Both indigestion and heartburn are common side effects of many transplant medicines.

According to the Mayo Clinic, changing what, how, and when you eat may help prevent heartburn. Some suggestions that may help you are listed below, but make sure you talk to your doctor before making any changes.

  • It may be a good idea to try to lose weight if you are overweight
  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day. It is better to eat 5 small meals rather than 3 large ones
  • Avoid fatty foods, alcohol, caffeinated or carbonated beverages, decaffeinated coffee, peppermint, spearmint, garlic, onion, cinnamon, chocolate, citrus fruits and juices, and tomato products whenever possible
  • Try to stop eating 2 to 3 hours before lying down
  • It is a good idea to elevate your bed so that your head is above your body
  • Try not to bend over or face downward for 1 hour after eating

Frequent indigestion and heartburn can cause problems such as damage to your lower esophagus. Speak to your transplant team if you experience it severely or daily.

Tips for patients on indigestion and heartburn according to the Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/in-depth/health-tip/art-20049184, accessed October 14, 2014.