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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, the heart transplant team will give you medicines to lower your immune system (immunosuppressants) right after surgery. You need to take these medicines for the rest of your life to prevent rejection.
After a heart transplant, the recovery process is similar to the process after other heart surgeries.
You will spend about 2 to 3 weeks in the hospital after surgery. You may have to stay longer depending on your health and if you have complications from surgery.
Your doctors will do tests (echocardiograms and biopsies) to check on your heart to make sure your body isn't rejecting it. While in hospital, you'll also start a cardiac rehabilitation program.
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.
After a heart transplant, you must follow a strict lifestyle involving daily medicines and regular medical care. This includes regular sampling (biopsies) of the transplanted heart tissue to check for rejection.
A heart transplant is an option when the heart no longer works well (end-stage heart disease). A heart transplant becomes an option when other medical treatments or surgeries cannot prolong a person’s life. A person might be a candidate for a transplant when any of these conditions are true:
In carefully selected people, a heart transplant is generally successful. About 90 to 95% of people who have a heart transplant live for at least 1 year. About 70 to 75 out of 100 live 10 years.footnote 1
Most people have a good quality of life after their transplant. They can be active, have a social life, and return to work.
Risks from heart transplant include:
CitationsLund H, et al. (2017). The Registry of the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation: Thirty-fourth Adult Heart Transplantation Report—2017. Focus theme: Allograft ischemic time. Journal of Heart and Lung Transplantation 36(10): 1037–1046. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healun.2017.07.019. Accessed October 7, 2019.
Adaptation Date: 11/19/2021
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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