Preparing for Bone Marrow Transplant: What to Expect

Despite having been on the waiting list for a bone marrow transplant for a long time, when the moment comes, it can still be incredibly scary. You’re likely to feel mentally exhausted, and this isn’t a strange thing. You have to prepare for what’s to come; these include a myriad of tests, doctor’s appointment and consultations, and other pre-transplant treatments to ensure your body receives the new stem cells successfully.


One thing you’ll have to prepare mentally is the time the whole transplant process will take. Give yourself 5-6 weeks in hospital in total (unless advised otherwise by your doctor). This will cover your time before the transplant for any pre-transplant treatment you require and necessary post-recovery treatment. This extended period can be daunting, and you need to know and understand that it’s all for the best!

Once you’re discharged from the hospital, keep in mind you may require to visit the hospital as an outpatient for some time. Depending on you and your personal circumstances, this could take anywhere between three weeks and three months after the initial transplant.

In this sense, you’ll also need to prepare mentally for what you can and can’t do. Many transplant patients are keen on returning to their previous way of life, but it is not recommended; the body is not yet ready to do so. Your immune system needs to recover before you try and become active again. For example, if you’re eyeing up to participate in a triathlon shortly after your transplant, it is advisable not to do so.

During this recovery time, it’s best to lay low and relax, allowing your scars to heal and body to adapt to the new organ. Should you discover any complications regarding the transplant, immediately get in touch with a doctor.

Pre-transplant Appointments 

No matter what kind of transplant you’re having, you’re always going to have to attend a pre-transplant appointment. Here, you’ll learn how to prepare your body physically and mentally for the transplant, helping to cope with the whole process better. Before going into the surgery, you’ll be meeting a team of highly qualified doctors and surgeons; this is the time to ask them questions to better understand the procedures. Make note; however, during these appointments, you will receive an abundance of information. Hence, it’s best to bring along a family member to help you absorb the information delivered by the doctor.

Pre-transplant Tests 

Pre-transplant tests are inevitable. You’ll undergo a variety of different tests before your transplant. The tests determine whether or not your primary organs are performing well, as well as the transplanted organ itself. It may sound strange, but your surgeons and doctors will also tell you to go to the dentist. Not because they think your teeth are in a bad condition, but they need to ensure that any dental work that might need doing is carried out – believe it or not your teeth and their status can affect the transplant recovery process.

The Central Venous Catheter 

It sounds scary, but it’s not as worrying as it reads. During the transplant, you’ll be given many types of different medicines and a blood transplant. Doctors will inject a special catheter into you. This is done by a simple operation, and the line will essentially feed you medication into your body.

You’ll be responsible for looking after this while at home. It needs to be cared for properly to avoid any infection. Your nurses or doctors will guide you, giving you clear instructions as to how to maintain it. Don’t worry, it’s simple and should become part of your daily routine after surgery.

Conditioning Therapy 

Conditioning Therapy is a standard treatment before a bone marrow transplant. It helps prepare both your bone marrow and your immune system to make way for all the new cells. The therapy is an effective form of chemo which often combine with radiotherapy. This treatment usually starts one or two days after you’re admitted to hospital. It can take anywhere from one day right up to ten days; it all depends on a case-by-case basis.

Once the treatment is complete, the transplant will be held the next day. However, you might experience the following side effects from the conditioning treatment:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bowel problems
  • Fatigue
  • Weight fluctuations

Don’t despair. There are various ways to manage the side effects of a conditioning treatment, including taking medication prescribed by doctors. While you might be sick of always taking medications, your doctors will assess your situation and advise you accordingly.

Hospital Time 

During your time at the hospital, you must understand your vulnerability to infection, advised to you by the medical team. There’s an increased risk of infection immediately after the transplant, as this is the time when your white blood cells will be at their lowest. Quite often your doctors will place you into a germ-free area, known as protective isolation to facilitate a swift post-transplant recovery.

With so much advanced technology and knowledge, physicians around the world are more adept than ever at carrying out successful bone marrow transplants. Today it’s considered to be a routine transplant procedure and rest assured your medical team of knowledgeable doctors, surgeons, and nurses know what’s best for you and your body.

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