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Is kidney transplantation psychologically stressful?


Key Points

  • Yes, transplantation can be stressful, even to someone who has coped with kidney failure for many years
  • There is no easy ‘cure’ for psychological problems after transplantation, each individual needs to find a solution that suits him or her
  • Talking to the transplant doctors, or nurses, is important in recognising problems and in finding the best way to cope

     

  • Talking to a psychologist is possible, your transplant doctor/nephrologist will help

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Why can transplantation be stressful?

Having kidney failure in the first place can be stressful and dialysis is not easy if there are any complications. Add to this the uncertainty over waiting for a transplant and the need to do the operation immediately when a kidney becomes available, it is easy to see that anyones feelings and emotions can go up and down very quickly.

Even if a transplant goes very well and looks like getting rid of all the problems encountered on dialysis, there can still be many problems. These include the stress of many clinic visits and waiting for those all-important blood results. About a half of transplant recipients are readmitted into hospital in the first three months after a transplant for tests or treatment of problems and it is natural to be afraid that the new kidney could fail. Later on, even after a few years, you still have to take tablets all the time.

Some doctors think that the ‘old timers’ know it all and are relaxed patients who can cope. This is not always the case. Coming to the hospital frequently or for long time periods can cause more fears and stress the longer it goes on. Things do not always get easier to cope with.

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How to cope

People are resourceful and often find hidden strengths to cope with problems. Difficult experiences can be bad at the time, but most people find they develop a different outlook to life and go on to feel better and stronger.

There are ways you can cope with the stress associated with being on the transplant list and after receiving a kidney:-

  1. Get your facts straight
  2. Establish support from family or friends
  3. Work out how to cope with problems
  4. Seek help

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Get your facts straight

It is important to understand what is going on around you. The whole of this website can of course help with establishing some of the facts of transplantation. However, this is not a substitute for talking to people. Nurses, doctors, transplant coordinators, dietitians, pharmacists, psychologists and other people with transplants are all ready to help. And don’t forget the NKF Helpline 0800 169 09 36.

Sometimes people are very worried about how long they have waited for a kidney, so discuss any worries with your doctors or transplant coordinators, and read the section on ’How long will I wait?’ on this website.

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Establish support from family or friends

You cannot manage everything on your own and support from family, friends or hospital staff is absolutely essential. Your local kidney patient association and the National Kidney Federation may also be able to help.

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Work out how to cope with problems

People cope with problems in individual ways. There is no recipe that works for everyone. Some people need something that will take their mind off a problem, others need something to look forward to in the future. Some coping strategies are:-

  1. Have an activity to turn for diversion (eg a hobby, or watch the television at night if you are worried and cannot sleep)
  2. Set yourself goals (eg I will look good at that wedding, I will go to that big football match)
  3. Keep up normal routines, even if you have to give up other activities for a while
  4. Learn to control your disease, not be controlled by it
  5. Take control of your own dialysis

Seek Help

Speak with your doctor/nurse/transplant coordinator, request to see a psychologist

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The National Kidney Federation cannot accept responsibility for information provided. The above is for guidance only. Patients are advised to seek further information from their own doctor.

NKF Controlled Document No. 263: Is kidney transplantation psychologically stressful? written: 01/05/2001 last reviewed: 23/09/2016