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Lung transplant

Overview of lung transplant

Lung transplant is surgery to replace a diseased lung with a healthy donor lung. It is life-saving, major surgery for when all other treatments have failed. Lung transplant is also called a pulmonary transplant. It can involve large complications, but also can drastically improve your quality of life.

To begin your journey toward healthy lungs, consult your Dignity Health doctor to get started with the donor process.

Why it’s necessary

Doctors perform lung transplants to treat severe and chronic lung conditions in people who are likely to die from their diseased lungs within one to two years. Damaged lungs make it difficult for your body to obtain the oxygen it needs to survive. Lung conditions are usually treated with medication or breathing devices, but often these interventions stop helping your lungs function over time.

Conditions that can lead to needing a lung transplant include:

  • Heart disease affecting the lungs
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), the most common reason for a lung transplant
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs)
  • Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs)
  • Inherited conditions, including cystic fibrosis and AAT (alpha-1 antitrypsin) deficiency

Common conditions treated with lung transplants

Lung transplants are used for a variety of diseases and conditions. A lung transplant is not necessarily a cure, but is a life-saving measure. Common conditions treated with lung transplants include:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Emphysema
  • IPF: idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

Not all people with these conditions will require a lung transplant. Lung transplants are not a recommended treatment for lung cancer.


Four types of lung transplant procedures could be performed:

  • Single lung is the transplant of one lung.
  • Double lung is the transplant of both lungs.
  • Bilateral sequential is when both lungs are transplanted one at a time.
  • Heart-lung transplant is when the lungs and heart are transplanted at the same time from a single donor.


Risks and complications from a lung transplant can be severe and sometimes fatal. Rejection and infection are the two most significant risks associated with a lung transplant. Additional risks include:

  • Bleeding or blood clots
  • Blockage of the blood vessels or airways
  • Severe pulmonary edema (fluid in your lungs)


Rejection occurs because your immune system defends your body against foreign substances. Regardless of how good of a match you and your donor are, your body will try to attack and reject your new lung(s).

You will be put on a strict drug regimen after your transplant that you will continue to take for the rest of your life. These immunosuppressant medications will work to prevent rejection. Side effects of immunosuppressants include:

  • Stomach problems
  • Weight gain
  • Facial hair
  • Aggravating or developing existing conditions including diabetes, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure


Because anti-rejection medications are suppressing your immune system, your body, and especially your lungs, are more susceptible to infection. You can prevent infections by:

  • Washing your hands
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Avoiding crowds and people who are sick
  • Getting appropriate vaccinations
  • Protecting your skin from scratches

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.

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