Immunosuppressive Therapy | Immunosuppressant Drugs

Immunosuppressive drug therapy can help train your body to accept new organs and tissues from transplants. Immunosuppressant drugs also are known as anti-rejection medications.

If you receive an organ transplant, you most likely will need immunosuppressive therapy.

Immunosuppressant drugs are essential for transplants to work. They may be used to keep the body from rejecting a newly transplanted kidney, liver or heart.

What is immunosuppressive therapy?

Immunosuppressive therapy is mainly used to aid organ transplants. Patients’ bodies sense a foreign object and their immune system attacks it. The drugs help reduce the risk of the patient rejecting the new organ.

Immunosuppressive therapy is a drug regimen that patients use to lower their bodies’ immune response. These drugs help doctors stop the immune system from overreacting and damaging transplanted organs and tissues.

Most everyone has to take immunosuppressant drugs when receiving an organ transplant. There are very few times when patients do not have to take them. 

Immunosuppressive therapy conditions treated

Immunosuppressive therapy can be used treat and manage autoimmune disorders and conditions, in addition to organ transplants.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS)

Doctors and patients will work together to be sure the medication is working and is right for the patient.

Immunosuppressive drugs can make the immune system less able to fight cancer or infections that cause cancer 

There are some risks that come with taking immunosuppressive drugs.

The drugs often produce side effects that usually go away after treatment:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Hives
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Headache

A significant risk of immunosuppressive drugs is infection, as the immune system is suppressed and not able to fight infections effectively.

 Be sure to contact your doctor if you experience:

  • Fever above 100 ºF
  • Surgical scar drainage
  • Burning while urinating
  • Symptoms that do not go away

Immunosuppressant drugs can be given by mouth or as an injection.

  • Dosage varies with each patient.
  • Most patients need to take multiple drugs at a time.
  • Doctors will instruct patients when to take each drug and how often to take them.
  • Physical activity and a healthy diet can help prevent unwanted side effects. Ask your doctor about your limitations and which activities and medications are right for you.

Doctors and patients will work together to be sure the medication is working and is right for the patient.

The Maine Transplant Program at Maine Medical Center provides care for people with kidney failure and their organ donors.

The skilled transplant team includes nephrologists, surgeons, lab specialists, pharmacists, nutritionists and social workers.