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Many people who have an allogeneic transplant, which uses cells from a family member, unrelated donor, or umbilical cord blood unit, will experience some degree of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). 

GVHD can be:
  • Acute – Acute GVHD happens within the first 100 days from transplant. Acute GVHD is more likely to affect certain organs, such as the liver, stomach, intestines, and skin. 
  • Chronic – Chronic GVHD happens more than 100 days after transplant. Chronic GVHD more commonly affects other areas such as joints, eyes, mouth, and skin. 
Post-transplant guide
Download the post-transplant app to help you and your health care team monitor signs and symptoms of GVHD.

Your doctor and health care team will teach you how to watch out for signs and symptoms of both forms of GVHD, so you can be treated as quickly as possible. Getting treated early may prevent more serious complications.

Make sure you watch your body closely and tell your doctor about any changes, no matter how small.

Some common signs to be on the lookout for include:

Acute GVHD warning signs

  • Skin: very faint to severe sunburn-like rashes, or blisters
  • Stomach: nausea that doesn’t go away, loss of appetite, vomiting, early fullness after eating
  • Intestines: diarrhea, abdominal discomfort that does not go away, abdominal bloating, blood in the stool
  • Liver: jaundice (turning yellow), dark (tea-colored) urine, upper abdominal discomfort, water weight gain (or swelling)

Chronic GVHD warning signs

  • Skin: skin texture changes (thickening), nail changes, rashes
  • Joints: arthritis-like symptoms, pain and stiffness
  • Eyes: dry eyes, irritation that does not go away, blurred vision
  • Mouth: trouble opening, sores, irritation that does not go away, pain
  • Lungs: cough that does not go away, shortness of breath, trouble breathing
  • Genitals: irritation or dryness, rashes, painful intercourse

Contact your transplant care team right away if any of these signs appear. GVHD can be difficult to diagnose, because the signs can also be caused by other problems. If the doctor you are seeing regularly is not a transplant specialist, ask him or her to discuss your symptoms with your transplant doctor.