Heart transplants

November 12, 2012

Heart transplants

Sometimes heart disease is so severe that the only way a person will survive is through undergoing a transplant procedure.

The purpose of a heart transplant is to replace a heart which is no longer working efficiently due to disease and which poses a risk to life. Whilst most transplants are carried out on those patients with severe heart failure, not everyone with this type of heart failure is a suitable candidate for transplant.

A heart transplant candidate will already have been through a long period of conventional treatment for heart disease under the supervision of a cardiologist who will have recommended a transplant as a final option for cure. A heart transplant will improve both quality of life for the patient and his or her life expectancy.

What is heart failure?

The role of the heart is to pump both oxygenated and deoxygenated blood around the body. Heart failure causes the heart to become less efficient at pumping blood. The result of this is that organs and tissues fail to get the oxygen and nutrients they need in order to properly function.

A number of things can cause, or contribute to, heart failure -

  • Heart attack

  • Coronary heart disease

  • Severe high blood pressure

  • Irregular or abnormal heartbeat

Let’s talk numbers

Figures for 2008 show that 130 heart transplants were performed in the UK – of these 34 were carried out on patients under the age of 16.

Whilst this number of transplants is probably not considered high it is still lower than it could be due to the shortage of organ donors.

New technology

As with many medical

procedures new technologies are leading to many changes and improvements for cardiac patients including those requiring transplant. One such advance is the development of left ventricular devices which can be used as a permanent alternative to transplant or may support a failing heart until a suitable donor can be found.


Clearly a heart transplant is a major and very complicated operation – patients can expect to be in theatre for up to five hours. However once the surgery is over and the patient has been discharged from hospital he or she can continue to live a useful and fulfilling life for as long as 24 years. The prescribing of immunosuppressant drugs will ensure that the new heart is not rejected and are taken before surgery and then for the remainder of the patient’s life. A heart transplant patient will undergo a blood test every six weeks and attend a transplant centre every three months for the rest of their life.


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