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What Is a Heart Transplant?

A heart transplant is surgery to remove a person's diseased heart and replace it with a healthy heart from a deceased donor. Most heart transplants are done on patients who have end-stage heart failure.

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is damaged or weak. As a result, it can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. "End-stage" means the condition is so severe that all treatments, other than a heart transplant, have failed.

Overview

Heart transplants are done as a life-saving measure for end-stage heart failure.

Because donor hearts are in short supply, patients who need heart transplants go through a careful selection process. They must be sick enough to need a new heart, yet healthy enough to receive it.

Survival rates for people receiving heart transplants have improved, especially in the first year after the transplant.

About 88 percent of patients survive the first year after transplant surgery, and 75 percent survive for 5 years. The 10-year survival rate is about 56 percent.

After the surgery, most heart transplant patients can return to their normal levels of activity. However, less than 30 percent return to work for many different reasons.

The Heart Transplant Process

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.

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Heart Transplant Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Heart Transplant, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.

 
January 03, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.