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Graft-Versus-Host Disease (GvHD)

What is graft-versus-host disease (GvHD)?

Graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) is a complication that can occur after certain stem cell or bone marrow transplants in which the transplanted cells attack the recipient’s body.

There are two types of GvHD: acute and chronic. Acute GvHD occurs usually within the first six months after a transplant, whereas chronic GvHD occurs usually more than three months after a transplant and can last a lifetime.

What causes graft-versus-host disease (GvHD)?

GvHD is caused when someone receives an allogeneic transplant, i.e. bone marrow tissue or cells from a donor, not his/her own body. If the new, transplanted cells regard the recipient’s body as foreign, they will attack, causing the symptoms of GvHD.

With this being said, GvHD is less likely to occur, or symptoms will be milder, if the match between the donor and the recipient is close.

What are the symptoms of graft-versus-host disease (GvHD)?

Common symptoms of acute GvHD include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Jaundice or other liver issues
  • Skin rash, itching, or redness

Common symptoms of chronic GvHD include:

  • Dry eyes or dry mouth
  • Vision changes
  • Fatigue, muscle weakness
  • Joint pain or stiffness
  • Skin rash
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss

How is graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) diagnosed?

GvHD is diagnosed using several lab and imaging tests, and a skin biopsy can be used to confirm the diagnosis.

What are the available treatments for graft-versus-host disease (GvHD)?

After a transplant, the recipient usually takes drugs that suppress the immune system, which help reduce the chances or severity of GvHD. These medicines should be taken until your health care provider thinks the risk of GvHD is low.

If, however, a patient develops chronic GvHD, he/she should take prednisone (a steroid), or go back to taking the same immunosuppressant drugs.

Fortunately, many cases can be treated successfully, following strict monitoring to ensure that the original transplant remains effective and a relapse does not occur.

Where can I find out more about graft-versus-host disease (GvHD)?

Graft-Versus-Host Disease (GvHD) Articles