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Pancreas Transplant

Surgery Overview

A pancreas transplant is surgery to give you a healthy pancreas. It may be combined with a kidney transplant if you also have kidney failure. The new organs come from a person (donor) who is deceased.

Before the transplant, you'll have many tests. These include tests to see how well the donor pancreas matches your tissue type and blood type.

During surgery, the doctor makes a cut (incision) in the middle of your belly. The donor pancreas is connected to your small intestine or your bladder so that digestive juices from the pancreas can drain. A small section of the donor's small intestine (duodenum) is also transplanted for that purpose. The doctor then connects the blood vessels of the donor organ to your blood vessels. Your own pancreas may still help with digestion. It will be left in your body unless it's causing problems. The doctor closes the incision with stitches or staples.

What to Expect

After a pancreas transplant, you will be cared for in the intensive care unit (ICU) for a couple of days. You will likely need to stay in the hospital for 1 to 2 weeks after the transplant. It may take 2 to 4 months for your energy to return.

Your pancreas should start working right away.

After the transplant, you will take medicine to keep your body from rejecting the new pancreas. You will need to take anti-rejection medicines every day for the rest of your life.

Getting support

Having good support is important throughout the process of getting a transplant. Waiting for your transplant can be hard emotionally. After your surgery, you may have concerns about your health and the new organ or organs you received. You'll also have a lot to manage, like taking new medicines and going to follow-up visits.

Getting support from others, such as friends and family, can help during this time. A counselor can help you learn to cope with stress and other emotions before and after your surgery.

Many people who have an organ transplant feel anxious or depressed. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be depressed. Depression can be treated with medicines and counseling.

Why It Is Done

You may need a transplant if your pancreas doesn't work as it should. This is usually because of type 1 diabetes. But it may also be due to chronic pancreatitis or an injury to the pancreas.

How Well It Works

Most people can have a good quality of life after their transplant. For example, people who had diabetes before their transplant may no longer need to take insulin, and their A1c levels are much improved. With better control of blood sugar, there's less danger of damage to the new organ.

The success of a pancreas transplant may depend on:

  • Your overall health. After the transplant, it's important to keep a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating healthy foods and being active. Don't smoke or drink alcohol.
  • Whether you take your medicines as prescribed. Anti-rejection medicines must be taken every day from now on.
  • Finding and treating organ rejection early. This makes it more likely that your transplanted pancreas will stay healthy. That's why it's important to go to follow-up appointments and get tests.

Risks

Like any surgery, a pancreas transplant has some risks. Risks include:

  • Organ rejection. Your body tries to destroy the transplanted organ by rejecting it. It happens because the donor organ doesn't match your own tissue exactly.
  • Problems such as bleeding during and after the surgery.
  • Infection. The medicines you'll need to take to help your body accept the new pancreas can also make it harder for your body to fight infection.
  • Certain cancers, such as skin cancer. This risk increases because anti-rejection medicines can also prevent the body from attacking cancer cells.

Credits

Current as of: October 19, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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