Living with a kidney transplant 

The lifestyle advice below is usually recommended if you have had a kidney transplant.

Stop smoking

If you smoke, it is strongly recommended you stop as soon as possible because smoking can reduce the life of your new kidney and can increase your risk of developing some types of cancer.

The NHS Smokefree website can provide support and advice to help you stop, and your GP will also be able to recommend and prescribe medication that can help. Read more about stopping smoking.

Diet

Most people are able to enjoy a much more varied diet after a kidney transplant, although you may be advised to avoid some foods after the operation until the kidney is working properly.

During the early stages after a transplant, while you are on higher doses of immunosuppressant medication, you should avoid eating foods that may cause food-borne infections such as listeriosis. For example, you should avoid:

  • unpasteurised cheese, milk or yoghurt
  • foods containing raw eggs (such as mayonnaise)
  • undercooked meats, fish and shellfish

Once your kidney is working properly and the best immunosuppressant dose for you has been identified, you will usually be advised to follow a generally healthy diet as this can help reduce your risk of complications such as diabetes.

A healthy diet should consist of:

Also avoid food that contains high levels of salt, as salt can cause high blood pressure, which can be dangerous in people with a kidney transplant. See facts about salt for more information and advice.

Exercise and weight loss

Once you have made a sufficient physical recovery from the effects of surgery, it is recommended that you do regular physical activity.

Adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week.

The definition of moderate intensity physical activity is any activity that increases your heart and breathing rate and may make you sweat but you are still able to hold a normal conversation.

Examples include:

  • fast walking
  • riding a bike on level ground or with few hills
  • swimming
  • tennis

Choose physical activities that you enjoy, as you are more likely to continue doing them.

It is probably unrealistic to meet these exercise targets immediately if you have not exercised much in the past. So you should aim to start gradually – possibly 15 to 20 minutes of exercise five times a week – and then build on it.

If you are overweight or obese it is recommended you try to achieve a healthy weight. This can be safely done through a combination of eating a healthy calorie-controlled diet and regular exercise.

It is normally recommended you aim for a body mass index (BMI) of between 18.5 and 25.

Read more about exercise and losing weight safely.

Alcohol, drugs and medications

Regularly drinking alcohol above limits recommended by the NHS will raise your blood pressure, which can be dangerous in people with a kidney transplant.

Therefore, you should not exceed the recommended limits of:

  • three to four units a day for men
  • two to three units a day for women

Read more about alcohol units and get tips on cutting down.

Alcohol is also high in calories, so you will gain weight if you drink regularly. Being overweight will also increase your blood pressure. Read more about calories in alcohol.

You should also avoid taking any illegal drugs after a kidney transplant, as they can damage your kidneys, cause a sudden rise in blood pressure and react unpredictably with your immunosuppressant medications.

Finally, always check with your care team before taking any medication, including over-the-counter medication and herbal remedies such as St John's wort, as some medications could be potentially harmful if you have had a kidney transplant and are taking immunosuppressant medication.

Immunosuppressants and infection

If you have a kidney transplant, you will usually need to take immunosuppressant medications for the rest of your life to prevent your body's immune system from attacking the new kidney.

Widely used immunosuppressants include:

However, taking immunosuppressive medications on a long-term basis will weaken your immune system and make you more vulnerable to infections, so you will need to take extra precautions against infection:

  • Avoid contact with people with serious infections, such as chickenpox or influenza (flu).
  • Practise good personal hygiene – wash your hands regularly with soap and hot water, particularly after going to the toilet and before preparing food and eating meals.
  • If you cut or graze your skin, clean the area thoroughly with warm water, dry it, then cover it with a sterile dressing.

Also ensure your vaccinations are up to date, although you will not be able to have any vaccines that contain live viruses, such as the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

When to seek medical advice

If you think you may have an infection, contact your GP or transplant centre for advice. Prompt treatment may be required to prevent serious complications developing.

Symptoms of infection include:


Page last reviewed: 31/01/2014

Next review due: 31/01/2016