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What is a Lung Transplant?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A lung transplant is a medical procedure in which an unhealthy lung is replaced with a functioning lung, allowing the recipient to breathe better after recovery from the transplant procedure. This type of transplant is recommended for cases in which a patient is experiencing advanced lung failure due to a medical condition, and in some instances, the heart may be replaced as well, if it has become weakened by the same condition which caused the lung failure.

There are several different types of lung transplant, ranging from a lobe transplant, in which a single lobe of a donor lung is transplanted, to a double lung transplant, in which both lungs are replaced. Most lungs for transplant come from cadaver donors, although it is possible to perform a living donor lung transplant, in which a lobe from a living donor's lung is removed and implanted in a patient. Usually, at least two living donors are required for this type of transplant.

Like any surgery, a lung transplant carries risks. Patients may have an adverse reaction to anesthesia, or complications could develop during the surgery. The patient is also at risk for infections after the operation. In addition, transplant patients must take immunosuppressive medications for life to reduce the risk of rejecting the donor organs, and in the event that a rejection does occur, the recipient will require a new transplant urgently to replace the rejected and failing organ.

Transplant eligibility is determined with a set of criteria which vary from nation to nation. Generally, the patient's lung function must be severely impaired, with no possibility of recovery. The patient must also be reasonably healthy, with a medical record which suggests that he or she can comply with medical orders and take steps to care for the new organ. If a patient is determined to be eligible, he or she will be placed on a transplant list, and notified when a donor organ becomes available.

Depending on the condition which led to the need for a transplant, the prognosis after a lung transplant is quite varied. Some patients make an excellent recovery, living for years after their transplants and engaging in a very active life. Others may never recover their full health, or their healing time may be prolonged as a result of age, prior medical conditions, and damage to other organs. Transplant patients must also be prepared for a lifetime of follow up medical care, which is a big commitment.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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