For some patients, heart transplant is a treatment option for patients who have end-stage heart failure. In heart failure, the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood. Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition, and for some patients, it will become so severe that a heart transplant may be the only treatment that would be effective.
For a patient to be eligible for a heart transplant, all other treatment options must have failed. During heart transplant surgery, the diseased heart is removed and replaced with a healthy heart from a donor. A heart transplant is not an option for everyone who has end-stage heart failure. The supply of donor hearts is limited, and some patients will not be eligible for a heart transplant because of co-existing diseases, poor health or other factors.
It is important to realize that although a heart transplant can relieve symptoms of heart failure, it is not a complete cure. A significant amount of effort is required to keep a transplanted heart going strong. Heart transplant recipients must take medications for the rest of their lives to prevent their bodies from attacking the transplanted heart, otherwise known as rejection. These medications alter the immune system and may make transplant recipients more susceptible to infections. The transplanted heart (also known as the graft) has a limited lifespan, and although this time may vary widely, on average it is about 15 years.
Some patients who are waiting for a donor heart may be treated with an implantable device that can help the heart muscle function better. These devices are also sometimes an option to increase the quality and longevity of life in patients who are not eligible for a donor heart due to other medical conditions or a lack of available donor hearts.