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A lung transplant is performed to replace a failing or diseased lung with a healthy, new lung. This surgical procedure may involve a single-lung transplant (replacing one lung) or a double-lung transplant (replacing both lungs). Some patients will have a heart-lung transplant (replaces both one or both lungs and the heart). Most patients going into this surgery are concerned about lung transplant survival rates because they want to know what their prognosis after the transplant will be.
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Every one of the body's cells need oxygen to survive. As the cells utilize oxygen, they also produce carbon dioxide. Having too much carbon dioxide in the body is harmful, so it must be quickly removed. The lungs are responsible for taking oxygen into the body during inhalation, and then removing carbon dioxide from the body during exhalation. When the lungs are damaged or unhealthy, exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide becomes difficult. Several medical conditions and diseases can result in the lungs failing or becoming damaged. These include:
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Sarcoidosis with advanced fibrosis
- Eisenmenger syndrome
When breathing devices and medications fail to keep lungs working properly, a lung transplant may be the only option for the patient.
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Prognosis and Survival Rate
Lung transplant survival rates vary greatly from patient to patient. Survival rates are as follows:
- One year after a lung transplant, four out of five patients are alive
- Five years after a lung transplant, two out of five patients are alive
Patients who have a single-lung transplant and patients who have a double-lung transplant have similar survival rates.
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Fighting Lung Transplant Rejection
Fighting rejection after a lung transplant is an ongoing process. The body views the new lung, or lungs, as an invader and it can attack it.
There are measures in place to help prevent the body from rejecting the organ. Immunosuppression drugs are prescribed to all transplant patients. Medications such as corticosteroids and cyclosporine are taken for the rest of the patient's life to help suppress the immune system to keep the body from rejecting the organ. However, immune system-suppressing drugs also reduce the body's ability to fight off infections so patients have to take measures to avoid infection. Infections can be life-threatening to patients taking these drugs, specifically after an organ transplant. If the body rejects the new organ, death can result unless extensive measures, such as another transplant, are done.
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Signs of a Lung Transplant Rejection
If rejection occurs, certain signs and symptoms can present themselves. These signs and symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
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Mayo Clinic. (2008). Lung Transplant. Retrieved on July 31, 2010 from the Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/lung-transplant/MY00106
Medline Plus. (2009). Lung Transplant. Retrieved on July 31, 2010 from Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003010.htm