Organ Transplant Stressing You Out?

Mental distress was seen in a group of organ transplant patients

February 14, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) Having organ transplant surgery is very stressful both before and after the surgery. Managing stress throughout the process is important for the patient’s overall quality of life.

A recent study gauged mental distress among organ transplant patients. Researchers found that one out of three transplant patients reported overall mental distress, while 80 to 90 percent reported at least one specific psychological symptom.

The authors recommended that healthcare professionals assess the mental health of organ transplant patients before surgery in order to offer more supportive services after the transplant surgery.

"Talk to your doctor about managing surgery stress."

Andreas Baranyi, MD, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Medicine of Graz in Austria, led an investigation into levels and types of mental distress for patients who had an organ transplant.

For this study, 123 organ transplant patients who had received a liver, heart or lung were tested for mental distress before surgery and then followed for 13 to 26 months after surgery. Ability to function in society, mental distress and overall quality of life were gauged in each patient both before and after receiving an organ transplant.

Both transplant-related and treatment-related mental distress were found in most patients, which the authors said could create barriers to a good quality of life for patients after surgery.

Results of the mental distress surveys after surgery showed:

  • 32 percent of patients had overall mental distress
  • 92 percent of patients had obsessive-compulsive, revolving thoughts about the transplant and recovering in the intensive care unit (ICU) of the hospital after surgery
  • 87 percent of patients had physical symptoms from emotional or psychological distress
  • 85 percent of patients had symptoms of anxiety
  • 82 percent of patients had symptoms of depression
  • 69 percent of patients had symptoms of anxiety from fear of something associated with the surgery

The authors recommended that mental distress be evaluated in transplant patients before surgery to identify patients who might have a tougher time coping with the recovery process after the transplant. Once identified, patients at a higher risk for mental distress can be given better support services during the recovery process to prevent or lower the risk of mental distress.

dailyRx News spoke about this topic with Michelle Segovia of the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance. She said, "Any surgery can be a stressful procedure. But for those who receive a transplanted organ, some may feel added pressure due to the nature of the surgery. Transplant recipients may have feelings of guilt knowing that many times, the transplanted organ came from a deceased donor. Recipients might feel an obligation to take extra special care of their new Gift of Life which could lead to some anxiety."

Segovia continued, "Others might fear their body could reject the organ. But as one of our very special volunteers points out, 'This study focuses on people up to only two years after transplant. For many of us, once you get past that point, you worry less about dying all the time and more about how to live for the rest of your life.'"

According to the study authors, “In the future, the development of new specific therapeutic strategies to reduce overall mental distress are desirable." 

This study was published in February in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes.

No outside funding sources were listed for this study. No conflicts of interest were reported.