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 several conditions, including:
- A weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart valve disease
- A heart problem you’re born with (congenital heart defect)
- Dangerous recurring abnormal heart rhythms (ventricular arrhythmias) not controlled by other treatments
- Failure of a previous heart transplant
A heart transplant is an operation in which a failing, diseased heart is replaced with a healthier, donor heart. Heart transplant is a treatment that’s usually reserved for people who have tried medications or other surgeries, but their conditions haven’t sufficiently improved.
While a heart transplant is a major operation, your chance of survival is good, with appropriate follow-up care.
When faced with a decision about having a heart transplant, know what to expect of the heart transplant process, the surgery itself, potential risks and follow-up care.
The heart transplant process starts when doctors refer a patient who has end-stage heart failure to a heart transplant center.
Staff members at the center assess whether the patient is eligible for the surgery. If the patient is eligible, he or she is placed on a waiting list for a donor heart.
Heart transplant surgery is done in a hospital when a suitable donor heart is found. After the transplant, the patient is started on a lifelong health care plan. The plan involves multiple medicines and frequent medical checkups.
You’ll usually need to stay in hospital for around two or three weeks after a heart transplant. Most people are able to start returning to many of their normal activities within a few months.
Your transplant team can give you advice about how long you may need to avoid certain activities during your recovery.
You’ll need to have regular check-ups with your transplant team after the transplant.
You’ll also need to take medications called immunosuppressants for the rest of your life. Without these medicines, your body may recognise your new heart as foreign and attack it (known as rejection).