A heart transplant is a procedure in which a surgeon removes a diseased heart and replaces it with a donor heart. During a heart transplant, a mechanical pump circulates blood through the body while the surgeon removes the diseased heart and replaces it with a healthy heart from a recently deceased donor.
The surgeon connects the donor heart to the major blood vessels and hooks the heart up to wires that temporarily control the heartbeat. The procedure takes several hours.
To prevent the body from rejecting the donor heart, your surgeon will give you powerful drugs (immunosuppressants) immediately after surgery, and you must continue to take them.
After a heart transplant, the recovery process is similar to the process after other heart surgeries.
You will spend about 1 to 2 weeks in the hospital after surgery. You may have to stay longer depending on your health and if you have complications from surgery. While in the hospital, you will start a cardiac rehabilitation program. And your doctors will check on your heart to make sure your body isn't rejecting it.
A cardiac rehab program can help you recover from your surgery and be active again.
Your transplanted heart will respond to activity a little differently. Your heart rate will not increase like it used to. And you will have a higher resting heart rate. This is because some of the nerves that control your heart were cut during your surgery.
For more information about rehab programs, see Cardiac Rehabilitation.
A heart transplant is an option when the heart no longer works well enough and a person is at risk of dying. A heart transplant may be considered when a person has severe heart disease and is likely to benefit most from a donor heart. A person might be a candidate for a transplant when any of these conditions are true:
At some centers, transplant candidates must demonstrate that they have quit smoking and/or overusing alcohol for a period of time (such as 4 to 6 months) before they are considered for placement on a transplant waiting list.
In carefully selected people, a heart transplant can be very successful.
About 81% of all people who receive heart transplants survive for at least 1 year. About 75% survive 3 years, and 68% survive 5 years. About 50% survive 10 years.1
Risks from heart transplant include:
After a heart transplant, you must follow a strict lifestyle involving daily medicines and regular medical care, which includes regular sampling (biopsies) of the transplanted heart tissue to check for rejection.
You may wait a year or longer for a donor heart. But with maximal medical therapy, more than half of people on waiting lists survive for an extended period of time.
Candidates receive a donor heart according to the:
There are limited donor hearts available.
Last Revised: August 10, 2011
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