A pancreas transplant is an operation to replace a diseased pancreas with a healthy one from someone who’s died. It’s a complex procedure with risks of complications, and it requires lifelong immunosuppressant drugs. But pancreatic transplantation is the only treatment close to a cure for severe, uncontrolled long-term Type I diabetes.
A pancreas transplant is an operation to replace a diseased pancreas with a healthy one from a deceased donor.
Pancreas transplantation treats severe, long-term, uncontrolled Type 1 diabetes, also called insulin-dependent diabetes.
Your pancreas is an organ behind your stomach. It produces insulin, a hormone that helps your body use sugar (glucose) for energy. In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas makes little to no insulin. People with Type 1 diabetes must inject insulin to help control blood glucose levels.
Sometimes insulin injections are not enough to control diabetes. Eventually, a lack of insulin and uncontrolled high glucose levels can cause damage throughout your body.
Kidney disease is one of the most severe complications of Type 1 diabetes. Most people who are eligible for a pancreas transplant also have kidney failure. A pancreas transplant is often performed at the same time as a kidney transplant.
With a healthy pancreas from a transplant, a person with diabetes can begin to produce insulin (insulin independence).
Pancreas transplantation is the only treatment that’s close to a cure for Type 1 diabetes. The surgery can help you live a longer, fuller life. A transplant can end the need for:
If your healthcare provider thinks you might be a candidate for a pancreas transplant, you will need:
If the transplant team believes you’re a candidate, they’ll place you on a national waiting list for a pancreas. Many people are on the waiting list for months or even years before a matching pancreas is available.
Your healthcare team will coach you on ways to stay healthy while you wait for surgery, such as:
Surgery should happen as soon as possible after a matching pancreas becomes available. Other ways you can prepare for surgery include:
A pancreas transplant takes about three to five hours (almost twice as long for a combined kidney and pancreas transplant).
You’ll be asleep under general anesthesia the entire time, so you won’t feel anything. The surgeon will:
After a successful operation, the transplanted pancreas will start making insulin right away.
Your provider will move you to a special unit in the hospital and monitor you for:
Various machines and wires will give your body:
Your provider will also attach you to tubes that drain urine from your body. Other tubes will remove blood and fluid from the area of surgery.
If you don’t have any complications, your provider will eventually move you to a transplant recovery room. The average hospital stay after pancreas transplantation is two to three weeks.
Pancreas transplantation is a complex procedure with risks and possible complications, including:
Full recovery from a pancreas transplant takes about six months. Typically, people:
Your healthcare team will give you individual instructions.
If there are no complications, the outlook after pancreas transplantation is usually good. People can live years or even decades after the surgery.
About half of new pancreases still work well after five years. If a transplanted pancreas stops working, a surgeon can remove and replace it.
You will have to take medications called immunosuppressants for the rest of your life after a transplant. They prevent your body from attacking the new organ (called rejection). These drugs can have serious side effects, but you shouldn’t stop taking them without talking to a healthcare provider.
Many people who’ve had a pancreas transplant don’t need insulin anymore, but some do. In either case, episodes of low blood glucose are easier to control after pancreas transplantation.
Your transplant team will give you specific instructions about follow-up care. But you should seek immediate medical attention if you experience any signs of infection or organ rejection:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A pancreas transplant replaces a diseased pancreas with an organ from a deceased donor. It’s the only treatment close to a cure for Type I diabetes. Transplantation is a complex procedure with risks and potential complications. But it can help you live a longer, fuller life without insulin injections, diabetes complications and dietary restrictions.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/26/2022.
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