Glossary of Organ Transplant Terms

The world of organ donation and transplantation has a language all its own. There are many terms and topics that you may not have heard of before. Get to know what it all means by selecting the letters below or just scrolling down.

Transplant Terms Glossary

Absorption: the degree and pace at which a drug enters the bloodstream from the small intestine

Acute Tubular Necrosis (ATN): reversible kidney damage resulting in delayed kidney function

Alkaline Phosphatase: an enzyme produced by liver (and other) cells; elevated blood levels of this substance may indicate abnormal function of the liver or other organs

Allograft: a graft between two individuals who are of the same species (e.g. human) but have genetic differences

Anemic: low red blood cell count

Anesthetic: medication that reduces pain by numbing sensation

Antacid: a drug that aids in protecting the digestive system, relieves heartburn and digestive discomfort

Antibody: a protein produced by the body to eliminate foreign substances such as bacteria

Antigen: a foreign molecule or substance, such as a transplant, that triggers an immune response

Arteriogram (angiogram): an X: ray of the arteries taken with the aid of a dye

Atherosclerosis: a buildup of fats in the lining of the arteries

B Cell: a specialized white blood cell responsible for the body’s immunity

Bacteria: small organisms (germs) that can cause disease

Biopsy: the removal and examination of tissue for diagnosis

Bladder: the part of the urinary tract that receives urine from the kidneys and stores it until urination

Cadaveric Donor: an individual who has recently died of causes that do not affect the function of an organ to be transplanted

Cholesterol: a form of fat that performs necessary functions in the body but can also cause heart disease; cholesterol is found in foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products

Coagulation: blood clotting

Corticosteroids: a category of immunosuppressive medications that includes prednisone and prednislone

Crossmatch: a test in which donor and recipient blood samples are mixed together. A “positive” crossmatch shows the donor and recipient are incompatible. A “negative” crossmatch shows there is no reaction between the donor and the recipient. This means that the donor and recipient are compatible and the transplant may proceed.

CMV (Cytomegalovirus): a viral infection that can affect the lungs and other organs

Diabetes: a disease in which patients have high levels of sugar in their blood

Dialysis: the process of cleansing the blood of patients whose kidneys have failed. Dialysis may refer to hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis (PD)

Diastolic: the bottom of two blood pressure numbers, which measures blood pressure when the heart is at rest

Edema: excess fluid in body tissues

Electrolyte: refers to the dissolved form of a mineral such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, chlorine, etc.

Enzyme: a protein made in the body and capable of changing a substance from one form to another

Gingival Hypertrophy: enlargement of the gums. It is a side effect of the medication cyclosporine, but can be managed with good oral hygiene

Glucose: a type of sugar found in the blood

Graft: an organ or tissue that is transplanted

Graft Survival: when a transplanted tissue or organ is accepted by the body and functions properly

Helper T Cell: the specialized white blood cell that tells other parts of the immune system to combat infection or foreign material

Hematocrit: a measure of the red: blood: cell content of blood

Hemodialysis: a method of dialysis in which blood is purified by circulating through an apparatus outside the body

Hirsutism: an excessive increase in hair growth, side effect of corticosteroids and cyclosporine

Histocompatibility: the examination of human leukocyte antigens (HLA) in a patient often referred to as “tissue typing.” Tissue typing is routinely performed for all donors and recipients to help match the donor with the most suitable recipients. This helps to decrease the likelihood of “rejecting” the transplanted organ. HLA (human leukocyte antigens) system: genetically determined series of antigens that are present on human white blood cells and tissues.

Hypertension: high blood pressure

Immune Response: any defensive reaction to foreign material by the immune system

Immune System: the system that protects the body from invasion by foreign substances, such as bacteria and viruses, and from cancer cells

Immunity: a condition of being able to resist a particular infectious disease

Immunosuppressive Agents: medications given to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ

Incompatible: no likeness or similarity between donor or recipient blood type or organs

IV, or Intravenous: refers to giving medicines or fluids directly through a vein

IV Catheter: a small needle with a hollow tube inserted into a vein and used to give medicines or fluids

Living: Related Donor (LRD): a blood relative who donates an organ

Match: the compatibility between recipient and donor

Nephrologist: a physician who studies the kidney and treats kidney disease

Noncompliance: failure to follow the instructions of one’s health care providers, such as not taking medicine as prescribed or not showing up for clinic visits

Orally: by mouth

Organ Preservation: between organ procurement and transplant, organs require preservation to keep them viable. The length of time that organs/tissues can be kept outside the body varies, depending on the organ, the preservation fluid and the temperature.

Organ Procurement Organization (OPO): OPO’s serve as the link between the potential donor and recipient. The organization is responsible for the retrieval, preservation and transportation of organs for transplantation.

Organ Rejection: an attempt by the immune system to reject or destroy what it recognizes to be a “foreign” presence

Panel Reactive Antibody (PRA): a way of measuring immune system activity within the body. PRA is higher when more antibodies are being made.

PCP: Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, a type of pneumonia seen primarily in patients whose immune systems are suppressed

Peritoneal Dialysis: a method of purifying the blood by flushing the abdominal cavity with a dilute salt solution

Prophylactic Medication: medication that helps prevent disease

Rejection: an immune response against grafted tissue, which, if not successfully treated, results in failure of the graft to survive

Renal: refers to the kidney

Stricture/Stenosis: a narrowing of passage in the body

Systolic: the top of the two blood pressure numbers, which measures the maximum blood pressure reached as blood is pumped out of the heart chambers

Thrush: a fungus infection in the mouth

Triglycerides: a form of fat that the body makes from sugar, alcohol, and excess calories

T Cells: a white blood cell responsible for the body’s immunity

Tissue Typing: a blood test (performed prior to transplantation) to evaluate the closeness of tissue match between donor’s organ and recipient’s HLA antigens

Urethra: a tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside

Ureters: tubes that drain urine from the kidneys to the bladder

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): an infection of one or more parts of the urinary tract

Virus: a very small agent (germ) that causes infection

Waiting List: after evaluation by the transplant physician, a patient is added to the national waiting list by the transplant center. Lists are specific to both geographic area and organ type. Each time a donor organ becomes available, the UNOS computer generates a list of potential recipients based on factors that include genetic similarity, organ size, medical urgency and time on the waiting list. Through this process, a “new” list is generated each time an organ becomes available.

Image courtesy of YouSearch.

After her husband received a double-lung (bilateral) transplant in 2004, Shannon founded the Angel Cove Organ Donation Awareness Shop, which provides awareness t-shirts and gifts products for transplant recipients, living organ donors and donor families - giving 100% of the profits to help heart and lung transplant recipients with medical costs. Shannon lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her wonderful husband and two chocolate Labrador Retrievers.

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