Graft-Versus-Host Disease (GVHD)

Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) sometimes results when a patient receives transplanted tissue from another person. The most common occurrence is after a stem cell (bone marrow) transplant from a donor other than oneself — an “allogeneic” transplant.

The reaction is similar to an autoimmune response but is reversed. The “graft” rejects the “host” instead of the other way around.

The complication results in two types of issues, one acute and the other chronic. Acute GVHD occurs within the first three months and can cause rashes, jaundice, nausea and diarrhea.

Chronic GVHD occurs more than three months from time of transplant, lasting temporarily or lifelong. It may cause dry eyes and mouth, tight skin, liver problems, joint pain, weight loss, infections, and breathing difficulties.

Both types of symptoms can be mild or severe. The acute type is usually treated with medications to block the T cells attacking the body. The chronic type is usually treated with prednisone (a steroid) along with the drugs that suppress the immune system, similar to the acute type.