by Editorial Staff and Contributors
This is a surgery to remove severely diseased and damaged lungs. They are replaced with healthy lungs from a deceased donor. One or both lungs may be transplanted. In some cases, a heart transplant is done at the same time. In that case, the procedure is called a heart-lung transplant.
Reasons for Procedure TOP
A lung transplant is done to treat irreversible, life-threatening lung disease, such as:
Possible Complications TOP
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Procedure
Before you have a lung transplant, you will go through an intensive evaluation. This is done to determine if you are a good candidate for this surgery. During the evaluation, which often requires a hospital stay, you will have some or all of the following tests:
If you are a good candidate for a transplant, you will be put on a waiting list. There is a shortage of donors. You may need to wait a long time. You will need to carry a cell phone with you at all times. This will allow the transplant team to reach you if a donor lung becomes available. Donors are matched carefully for size, tissue type, and other factors. In some cases, a healthy family member can donate a lung if you only need a single transplant.
Leading up to your procedure:
General anesthesia will be used. It will keep you asleep during the surgery.
Description of the Procedure TOP
For a single lung transplant, the doctor will make an incision on your side. It will be about 6 inches below your underarm. For a double lung transplant, the doctor will make an incision across the lower chest.
You will be put on a ventilator and a heart-lung machine. This machine will take over the functions of the heart and lungs during surgery. Next, the doctor will remove a small section of rib. This will allow access to your lung. The old lung will be cut away from the main blood vessel and bronchus (large airway). The new lung will then be inserted. The doctor will attach the blood vessels and bronchus to the new lung.
Immediately After Procedure TOP
You will stay in the intensive care unit (ICU) for 2-3 days. The doctors and nurses pulse, breathing, and vital functions.
How Long Will It Take? TOP
How Much Will It Hurt? TOP
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
Average Hospital Stay TOP
This surgery is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay is 7-10 days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if you shows signs of rejecting the new lungs or have other problems.
Post-procedure Care TOP
Arrange for help at home until you can manage on your own. There will be some adjustments that you will have to make because of the transplant. These include:
It will take about 6 months to recover from a lung transplant.
Call Your Doctor TOP
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
Call for emergency medical services right away if any of the following occurs:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Lung Association
United Network for Organ Sharing
Explore lung transplant. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
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Updated. May 1, 2011. Accessed August 15, 2014.
Lung transplant. Duke Medicine website. Available at: https://www.dukemedicine.org/treatments/transplant-program/lung-transplant. Accessed August 15, 2014.
Lung transplant. Mayo Clinic website. Available at:
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Updated April 26, 2014. Accessed August 15, 2014.
Last reviewed September 2015 by Donald Buck, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013
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