What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

During your lung transplant

The procedure will be done under general anesthesia, so you'll be asleep and you won't feel any pain. Doctors will insert a tube through your mouth and into your windpipe to help you breathe. You will also have a tube in your nose down to your stomach to drain your stomach contents. A catheter will keep your bladder empty.

Your surgeon will make a cut in your chest to remove your diseased lung. The main airway to that lung and the blood vessels between that lung and your heart will then be connected to the donor lung. For some lung transplants, you may be connected to a heart-lung machine, which circulates your blood during the operation.

A single-lung transplant takes about four to eight hours to complete, while a double-lung transplant usually takes six to 12 hours.

After your lung transplant

Immediately after the surgery, you'll spend several days in the hospital's intensive care unit. A mechanical ventilator will help you breathe for a few days and tubes in your chest will drain fluids from around your lungs and heart. A tube in a vein will deliver strong medications to control pain and to prevent rejection of your new lung. As your condition improves, you'll no longer need the mechanical ventilator and you'll be moved out of the intensive care unit. Recovery often involves a one- to three-week hospital stay.

After you're discharged from the hospital, you'll require about three months of frequent monitoring by the lung transplant team to prevent, detect and treat complications and to assess your lung function. During this time, you'll need to stay close to the transplant center. Your follow-up visits may involve laboratory tests, chest X-rays, an electrocardiogram (ECG) and checkups with a specialist.

Living a healthy lifestyle is key to sustaining your new lung. Smoking isn't allowed, and the use of alcohol is strictly limited. Following a nutritious diet also can help you stay healthy. Exercise is an extremely important part of rehabilitation after your lung transplant. Your health care team will work with you to design an exercise program that's right for you.

Sep. 25, 2010