Recovering from a small bowel transplant 

Immediately after a small bowel transplant, you will be taken to the intensive care unit (ICU) and carefully monitored, so the transplant team can check your body is accepting the new organ. 

While in the ICU, you will have various tubes in your veins to provide medications and fluids, and you will be attached to monitoring equipment.

You may also have regular bowel biopsies, where tissue samples are taken using the opening in your tummy created by the surgeon. 

Alternatively, you may have an endoscopy, where a long, thin tube with a camera on the end is inserted into the opening in your tummy, to examine the inside of your bowel.

The transplant team can determine whether your body is rejecting the bowel from your biopsy results. If it is, additional treatment with medications to suppress your immune system (immunosuppressants) will be given.

Once you have started to recover, you will usually be transferred to a specialist transplant ward, where you will continue to be given painkillers, immunosuppressant medication and nutrition through a tube into a vein (parenteral nutrition).

Over time, the vast majority of people are able to move from parenteral nutrition to eating a normal diet fed through the mouth.

Leaving hospital

How long it takes to recover from a small bowel transplant depends on whether you also had any other organs transplanted at the same time. Overall, the recovery period is generally longer than for most other types of organ transplant.

On average, people who have a small bowel transplant are discharged from hospital after around four to six weeks.

If you live a long distance from the hospital, you may need to stay in nearby hospital-provided accommodation for a month or two after you are discharged, so you can be monitored carefully and treated quickly if any problems develop.

After leaving hospital

On leaving hospital, you will be given immunosuppressant medication to help prevent your body rejecting the transplant. This medication will need to be taken for the rest of your life.

For the first few weeks or months after leaving hospital, you will need to continue having regular blood tests and endoscopies, but these will be carried out less often over time. Eventually, you may only need to see your surgeon once a year and have blood tests every few months.

Although it can take a long time to make a full recovery from a small bowel transplant, and there is a risk of potentially serious complications, the aim of the operation is to eventually allow you to live as normal a life as possible – including working, enjoying hobbies and living independently.

Page last reviewed: 23/06/2014

Next review due: 23/06/2016