Why You May Need a Kidney-Pancreas Transplant

Kidney-pancreas transplant is a possible treatment option for patients with type 1 diabetes who are on, or close to requiring, dialysis. A kidney-pancreas transplant can improve quality of life for such patients. With a new kidney, you will no longer experience renal failure, and your new pancreas will maintain your blood sugars at a normal level. Kidney-pancreas transplantation is a chance to return to a more normal, productive lifestyle.

The Emory kidney-pancreas transplant team strives to educate every candidate thoroughly about transplantation. Post-transplant management can be difficult and demanding. You and your family must completely understand the risks, limitations, and benefits of a kidney-pancreas transplant before you can make an informed decision concerning the procedure. It is important to understand that a kidney-pancreas transplant is an ongoing treatment, not a cure for your disease. You will need daily medications and rigorous follow-up for the rest of your life.

The Healthy Pancreas

Your pancreas is a slender gland located between your stomach and spinal cord. The pancreas performs two major functions. First, it secretes two substances that control the amount of blood sugar in your body: insulin and glucagon. Insulin helps your body absorb sugar from the blood into your cells to produce energy. This process lowers your blood sugar. Glucagon, on the other hand, raises blood sugar by stimulating sugar production in various organs. The other function of your pancreas is to produce enzymes that are secreted into the small intestine to aid digestion.

Diabetes and Its Effect on the Kidneys

Diabetes mellitus is a disease in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, or the pancreas makes insulin but the body is unable to use that insulin properly.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs early in life, usually by age 25. In type 1 diabetes, your body's immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. As a result, your pancreas makes little or no insulin, causing the level of your blood sugar to rise. Type 1 diabetics must use insulin injections or an insulin pump to help control blood sugar.

Type 2 diabetes occurs later in life. In type 2, although the pancreas still makes insulin, the body resists the action of that insulin. One key difference between type 1 and type 2 is that type 2 is easier to control, usually by diet and exercise. When these are not effective by themselves, patients with type 2 diabetes may take medications by mouth or require insulin injections.

Over time, the kidneys of patients with diabetes may be damaged by the body's inability to maintain the proper balance of glucose. Kidney disease, one of the most serious complications of diabetes, causes at least a third of patients with type 1 diabetes to experience kidney failure within 20 to 30 years after the onset of their disease.