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Heart transplant - overview

Transplantation is the transfer of living cells, tissues, or organs from one person to another, or from one part of the body to another. Cardiac, or heart transplantation, is reserved for individuals who have severe heart failure and who cannot be treated effectively with drugs or other forms of surgery. In fact, cardiac transplantation is the only available option for certain patients with end stage heart disease. The most common types being congestive heart failure, severe heart valve disease, dilated cardiomyopathy, severe rhythm problems, and those with inoperable coronary heart disease. Patient criteria for selection are strict, but the field of heart transplantation is growing, with approximately 2200 transplants performed per year in the United States. These numbers would be much greater if organ donor cards were signed more diligently. The main risks of cardiac transplantation are rejection of the donor heart and infection. Almost all transplant recipients have some rejection, which usually happens during the first 3 months after surgery. The drugs used to prevent rejection weaken a patient’s ability to fight infections, and infections can quickly become a serious problem. In rare cases, a second transplant may be needed. Approximately 85% of patients survive for at least one year following a heart transplant, and more than 60% survive more than 5 years. Over 90% of people who have had a heart transplant are substantially better able to exercise and perform daily activities than they were before the transplantation.

Heart transplant - overview

Review Date: 5/16/2018

Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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