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Graft versus Host Disease

What is Graft versus Host Disease?

Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD) is a common and potentially serious and life-threatening complication of hematopoietic stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant. The risk of GvHD is higher in allogeneic transplants when stem cells from another person are donated to the patient. When the immune system is working normally, it helps to stay healthy by defending against foreign invaders like viruses or bacteria. In GvHD, the cells from the donor (graft) see the body (host) as foreign, so they attack and can damage the organs and tissues. There are two main categories of GvHD: acute graft versus host disease (acute GvHD) typically develops within the first 100 days after the transplant, and chronic graft versus host disease (chronic GvHD) typically occurs later. The different types of GvHD may affect different organs and vary greatly in symptoms and signs of disease. As an allogeneic transplant recipient, one might experience either type of GvHD, both types, or neither.

What are the Symptoms of Graft versus Host Disease?

Acute GvHD can affect the skin, the gastrointestinal (GI) system, or the liver. The symptoms can include:

  • skin rash
  • burning
  • itchy or reddened areas that may blister
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps suggesting involvement of the GI system
  • yellow discoloration of the skin and/or eyes
  • abnormal blood test results which can indicate an involvement of the liver

Chronic GvHD can affect a single organ or multiple organs. The skin, GI system, and liver may be affected, but it may also involve the eyes, lungs, genitals, muscles, joints, and other tissues. GvHD Diagnosis is based on the clinical symptoms as well as biopsies and laboratory tests.