Information for Patients

Acute Graft-versus-host Disease

What is acute graft-versus-host disease?

Acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is a disorder caused by donor immune cells in patients who have had marrow or blood cell transplantation. Damage caused by donor immune cells in the skin looks like measles or a sun burn. In severe cases, GVHD can cause blistering in the skin. Inflammation caused by donor immune cells in the liver causes jaundice. In severe cases, the liver does not work properly to eliminate waste products from the body. Damage caused by donor immune cells in the stomach and intestine can cause loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. In severe cases, GVHD can cause pain in the abdomen and bleeding in the stomach or intestines. Acute GVHD usually begins during the first 3 months after the transplant. In some cases, it can persist, come back or begin more than 3 months after the transplant.

Who gets acute graft-versus-host disease?

Patients who have had a blood or marrow transplant from someone else can get acute GVHD.

What causes acute graft-versus-host disease?

Immune cells from the donor cause acute GVHD. Even donors who are HLA-matched with the recipient can cause GVHD because the donor cells have an immune response against tissues in the recipient.

How is acute graft-versus-host disease diagnosed?

Acute GVHD can be diagnosed on the basis of characteristic clinical symptoms and signs, as described above. The diagnosis is usually confirmed by looking at a small piece of skin, liver, stomach or intestine with a microscope.

What is the treatment for acute graft-versus-host disease?

Prednisone or other similar anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressive medications are used to treat acute graft-versus-host disease. Other immunosuppressive medications can be used if treatment with prednisone is not successful.