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Immunosuppressant drugs, also called anti-rejection drugs, are used to prevent the body from rejecting a transplanted organ.
When an organ, such as a liver, a heart or a kidney, is transplanted from one person (the donor) into another (the recipient), the immune system of the recipient triggers the same response against the new organ it would have to any foreign material, setting off a chain of events that can damage the transplanted organ. This process is called rejection and it can occur rapidly (acute rejection), or over a long period of time (chronic rejection). Rejection can occur despite close matching of the donated organ and the transplant patient. Immunosuppressant drugs greatly decrease the risks of rejection, protecting the new organ and preserving its function. These drugs act by blocking the immune system so that it is less likely to react against the transplanted organ. A wide variety of drugs are available to achieve this aim but work in different ways to reduce the risk of rejection.
In addition to being used to prevent organ rejection, immunosuppressant drugs are also used to treat such severe skin disorders as psoriasis and such other diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease (chronic inflammation of the digestive tract) and patchy hair loss (alopecia areata). Some of these conditions are termed "autoimmune" diseases, indicating that the immune system is acting against the body itself.
Immunosuppressant drugs can be classified according to their specific molecular mode of action. The three main immunosuppressant drugs currently used in organ transplantations are the following:
Most patients are prescribed a combination of drugs after their transplant, one from each of the above main groups; for example cyclosporin, azathioprine and prednisolone. Over a period of time, the doses of each drug and the number of drugs taken may be reduced as the risks of rejection decrease. However, most patients need to take at least one immunosuppressive for the rest of their lives.
Immunosuppressants can also be classified depending on the specific transplant:
Some immunosuppressants are also used to treat a variety of autoimmune diseases:
Author Info: Nancy Ross-Flanigan, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002
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