A heart transplant is an operation in which a diseased, failing heart is replaced with a healthier donor heart. Heart transplant is a treatment that's usually reserved for people whose condition hasn't improved enough with medications or other surgeries.
While a heart transplant is a major operation, your chance of survival is good with appropriate follow-up care.
Heart transplants are performed when other treatments for heart problems haven't worked, leading to heart failure. In adults, heart failure can be caused by:
Heart-kidney transplant: This procedure may be an option for some people with kidney failure in addition to heart failure.
Heart-liver transplant: This procedure may be an option for people with certain liver and heart conditions.
Heart-lung transplant:Rarely, doctors may suggest this procedure for some people with severe lung and heart diseases if the conditions cannot be treated with only a heart transplant or a lung transplant.
A heart transplant is not right for everyone, however. You might not be a good candidate for a heart transplant if you
Besides the risks of having open-heart surgery, which include bleeding, infection and blood clots, risks of a heart transplant include:
Preparations for a heart transplant often begin weeks or months before you receive a donor heart.
If your doctor recommends a heart transplant, you'll likely be referred to a heart transplant center for evaluation. Or you can select a transplant center on your own. Check your health insurance to see which transplant centers are covered under your plan.
When evaluating a heart transplant center, consider the number of heart transplants a center performs each year and the survival rates. You can compare transplant center statistics using a database maintained by the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.
You should also check to see if a transplant center offers other services you might need. These include coordinating support groups, assisting with travel arrangements, helping you find local housing for your recovery period or directing you to organizations that can help with these concerns.
Once you decide on a center, you'll need to have an evaluation to see if you're eligible for a transplant. The evaluation will check to see if you:
Because immunosuppressants render your body more vulnerable to infection, your doctor might also prescribe antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal medications. Some drugs could worsen — or raise your risk of developing — conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer or diabetes.
Over time, as the risk of rejection decreases, the doses and number of anti-rejection drugs can be reduced.
Your doctor might give you instructions regarding your lifestyle, such as wearing sunscreen, not using tobacco products, exercising, eating a healthy diet and being careful to lower your risk of infection.
Follow all of your doctor's instructions, see your doctor regularly for follow-up appointments, and let your doctor know if you have signs or symptoms of complications.
It's a good idea to set up a daily routine for taking your medications so that you don't forget. Keep a list of all your medications with you at all times in case you need emergency medical attention, and tell all your doctors what you take each time you're prescribed a new medicine.
Most people who receive a heart transplant enjoy a good quality of life. Depending on your condition, you may be able to resume many of your daily life activities, such as returning to work, participating in hobbies and sports, and exercising. Discuss with your doctor what activities are appropriate for you.
Some women who have had heart transplants can become pregnant. However, talk to your doctor if you're considering having children after your transplant. You'll likely need medication adjustments before becoming pregnant, as some medications can cause pregnancy complications.
Survival rates after heart transplantation vary based on a number of factors. Survival rates continue to improve despite an increase in older and higher risk heart transplant recipients. Worldwide, the overall survival rate is more than 85% after one year and about 69% after five years for adults.
Heart transplants aren't successful for everyone. Your new heart can fail for a number of reasons. Your doctor might then recommend adjusting your medications or, in more extreme cases, having another heart transplant.
If additional treatment options are limited, you might choose to stop treatment. Discussions with your heart transplant team, doctor and family should address your expectations and preferences for treatment, emergency care and end-of-life care.
It's normal to feel anxious or overwhelmed while waiting for a transplant or to have fears about rejection, returning to work or other issues after a transplant. Seeking the support of friends and family members can help you cope during this stressful time.
Joining a support group for transplant recipients: Talking with others who share your experience can ease fears and anxiety.
Setting realistic goals and expectations: Recognize that life after transplant might not be the same as life before transplant. Having realistic expectations about results and recovery time can help reduce stress.
Educating yourself: Read as much as you can about your procedure and ask questions about things you don't understand. Knowledge is empowering.
After your heart transplant, you may need to adjust your diet to keep your heart healthy and functioning well. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise can help you avoid complications such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
A nutrition specialist (dietitian) can discuss your nutrition and diet needs and answer any questions you have after your transplant. Your dietitian will provide you with several healthy food options and ideas to use in your eating plan. Your dietitian's recommendations may include: