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Immunosuppressive drugs diminish immune response, and these pharmaceutical agents are essential for preventing organ rejection after transplantation and must be used lifelong. These drugs also effectively treat auto-immune disorders, allergic diseases, and several other diseases. The drugs are used to prevent the body from showing rejection of the transplanted organ.

Immunosuppressants are classified under the class of drugs that suppress or reduce the strength of the body’s immune system. Some of these make the body less likely to reject a transplanted organ such as a kidney, liver, or heart. These drugs are often referred to as anti-rejection drugs. If your doctor has prescribed an immunosuppressant drug, here’s what you need to know about these drugs. This page will help you know how these drugs work and how they might make you feel. 

Common Immunosuppressants:

Immunosuppressive drugs are used in immunosuppressive therapy and can be divided into various classes according to their mode of action.

The Immunosuppressant drugs that are currently used include:

  • Cyclosporins, Tacrolimus: these drugs inhibit the T-cell activation and prevent the T-cells from attacking the foreign transplanted organ.
  • Corticosteroids (prednisone, dexamethasone): these drugs are very useful in reducing the inflammation that is usually associated with transplant rejection
  • Azathioprine: the drugs disrupt the synthesis of DNA and RNA or cell division

Immune suppressive drugs are divided into two groups based on the time of their use:

  • Induction drugs: these are the drugs that are used to combat rejection at the time of transplant
  • Maintenance drugs: these drugs are for a long-term use

Use of immunosuppressants:

The immunosuppressants are used in transplantation. When a person undergoes a transplant, say a kidney transplant, the body knows that the transplanted kidney is a foreign organ, and the immune system starts attacking the organ to destroy it. Here, immunosuppressant drugs work to reduce the body’s immune system. Hence, the body slowly starts accepting the foreign organ under anti-rejection drugs.

Does everyone need anti-rejection drugs during a transplantation procedure?

The answer is Yes! The only exception is if the kidney comes from an identical twin, but you need to take the prescription immunosuppressive drugs in all other cases. Even a single dose miss can lead to rejection. One should not stop taking the drug until the doctor prescribed the anti-rejection drug says to do so. 

Signs of rejection you shouldn’t overlook:

Even though you are obediently taking the anti-rejection medicines prescribed by your doctor after transplantation, still you have the chance of developing a rejection. While taking anti-rejection medicines, you should watch your body's signs and symptoms. Watch out for the following symptoms:

  • Fever over 100 degrees
  • Blood in urine
  • Drop-in urination frequency
  • Tenderness of kidney (when newly transplanted)
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Increase in weight

If you find any of the following symptoms, you should call your doctor or the transplantation centre immediately and inform them about your condition.

Recommended dosage:

The recommended dosage of the drug depends upon the condition of the doctor. Immunosuppressant drugs are available on the doctor’s prescription-only and come in different forms such as tablets, capsules, liquid, and injectable forms. Dosage is different in different patients.

It is very necessary to take the immunosuppressive drugs on time as it is very important, and a single missed dose may cause transplantation rejection. 

Missed dose:

If you miss a dose accidentally, then take the drug as soon as possible and inform your doctor. If it is the time of the next dose, then do not attempt to take a double dose.

Side effects of the immunosuppressive drugs:

As the immunosuppressive drug suppresses the immune system, the body becomes more vulnerable to infections. Infection chances are very high during the early phase of transplantation as the dose of anti-rejection drugs, or immunosuppressive drugs are very high. The following side effects should not be ignored:

  • High fever (above 100 degrees)
  • Drainage from surgical scars
  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Cold /cough
  • Upset stomach
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver problems

If the drug is causing a problem, ask your doctor; he will make a suitable arrangement by either changing the medicine, dosage or the drug timings.

Important things to know:

  • Undergo regular checkups with a doctor
  • Watch out for infections, common during anti-rejection drug consumption
  • Prevent infection by preventing injury, bruising, or bleeding
  • People taking the immunosuppressive drugs should not come in contact with people taking live viral vaccines like polio as the virus may pass on to them very easily and cause infection due to low immune activity
  • Do not take if you get pregnant while taking this drug, then consult your doctor
  • Breastfeeding is not recommended for the mother who is taking the anti-rejection drugs

Immunosuppressants may cause drug interaction with certain drugs; thus, ask your doctor about the drugs that can interact with your immunosuppressive drugs.

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