Recovery 

When you wake up after having a pancreas transplant, you will first be cared for in an intensive care unit (ICU) or high dependency unit (HDU). After 12-24 hours you will be moved to a general transplant ward.

You will usually need to stay in hospital for two to three weeks. Your wound stitches will be taken out at around three weeks.

What to expect after surgery

Painkillers

After the operation you will be given painkillers as you are likely to feel some pain and discomfort.

You may be given a handheld device which allows you to access painkillers when you are in pain, known as patient controlled analgesia (PCA). This device operates a pump, containing painkillers, which is either:

  • attached directly to your vein
  • attached to a tube in your lower spine (an epidural cathether)

Oxygen

You will usually be wearing an oxygen mask after surgery and may be given physiotherapy to help clear your chest after surgey.

Drains

You will have a drain from the pancreas operation site. Drains are tubes that remove blood and other fluid from the operation site. 

You will also have a drain from:

  • the kidney operation site – if you have had a kidney transplant at the same time
  • your bladder (known as a catheter) – to allow your doctors to check your kidney function
  • your abdomen – to help prevent fluid building up
  • your stomach, passed up through your nose (known as a nasogastric tube) – this is to help keep your stomach empty

If the pancreas was joined to your bladder, levels of an enzyme in your urine (urinary amylase) will also be measured to determine whether your body is rejecting the new pancreas. Otherwise, the enzyme levels in the blood will be monitored.

Dialysis

If you have also had a kidney transplant, you may need temporary dialysis (a form of treatment that replicates the kidney's functions).

Follow-up

After a pancreas transplant the transplant team will need to review your progress regularly.

A typical follow-up schedule after discharge from hospital is outlined below:

  • two or three visits in the first three weeks
  • one visit a week for the next six weeks
  • every two weeks (fortnightly) thereafter for one month
  • thereafter reducing from monthly to every three months

Initially you will be seen at the pancreas transplant centre, but later you may be followed up at your local hospital.

Immunosuppressants

You will be given your first dose of immunosuppression during the transplant surgery.

Over the first few months after the operation you will be given high doses of immunosuppressants to prevent the transplanted pancreas being rejected.

You will need to take immunosuppressants for the rest of your life, but the initial high dosage will gradually be reduced over the first six months. 

Unfortunately, the long-term use of immunosuppressants can cause side effects and complications.

Read more about the complications of immunosuppressants.

Despite this you will still need to take them. If you stop taking immunosuppressants, your transplant will fail.

Getting back to normal

Most people will take at least three months off work following a pancreas transplant. Although light lifting is possible after six weeks, you should not lift anything heavy, such as a shopping bag, until three months have passed.

You can start gentle exercise when you feel fit enough (although not before six weeks).

More vigorous activities such as contact sports or horse riding may not be recommended – at least in the short-term – as they could damage your transplanted organs. You should discuss the issue with the doctor in charge of your care.


Page last reviewed: 12/07/2014

Next review due: 12/07/2016