Mayo Clinic: My dad is 66 and was just put on the waitlist for
a heart transplant due to coronary artery disease. How soon
after the transplant would we know that he’s out of the
woods and his body didn’t reject the new heart? Are there
other complications he might face? What is the life expectancy
for someone who’s had a heart transplant if all goes well?
Although rejection can happen at any time, the first year
after a transplant is the most critical. People who have a
heart transplant are closely monitored by a transplant care
team for rejection, as well as infection — a common
complication after a transplant — and other health concerns.
Life expectancy varies considerably, but once a patient gets
past the first year after a transplant without significant
complications, life expectancy tends to rise.
transplant is a surgery in which a failing or diseased heart
is replaced with a healthier donor heart. A heart transplant
is a major operation that has significant risks. One of the
most serious is rejection.
happens when the body’s immune system sees a new organ as
something foreign, or unknown, and tries to destroy it. The
risk for rejection is highest immediately following transplant
surgery. That risk then slowly declines throughout the first
year after a transplant.
prevent rejection, people who have a transplant need to take
anti-rejection medications for the rest of their lives. These
medications keep the body’s immune system from attacking the
transplanted heart. Because they suppress the body’s immune
system, anti-rejection medications put transplant patients at
high risk for infections.
rejection, infection and other possible complications as
quickly as possible, transplant patients have frequent
follow-up appointments with their care team. Along with a
physical exam, those appointments include blood tests to check
for infections and track how well the anti-rejection
medications are working.
transplant recipients also need heart biopsies regularly after
a transplant to check for rejection. The procedure involves
removing a tiny piece of tissue from the heart for testing.
Heart biopsies are done frequently in the months following
surgery. They are needed less often as time goes by. After
three years, routine biopsies typically are not necessary.
rejection and infection, another possible complication of a
heart transplant that can occur as time goes on is coronary
artery disease. Coronary arteries are the blood vessels that
supply blood, oxygen and nutrients to the heart. After a
transplant, the walls of the arteries in the transplanted
heart could thicken and harden. This can make blood
circulation through the heart difficult and lead to other
mention that your father needs a transplant due to coronary
artery disease. That diagnosis won’t affect his risk for the
disease after a transplant. The risk of coronary artery
disease in a transplanted heart is similar for all patients.
expectancy after a heart transplant depends a great deal on a
person’s medical condition and age. In general, though,
statistics show that among all people who have a heart
transplant, half are alive 11 years after transplant surgery.
Of those who survive the first year, half are alive 13.5 years
after a transplant.
regular follow-up care, seeking prompt medical attention for
any symptoms or other concerns, and taking all medications
exactly as prescribed can help decrease the risk of
complications after a heart transplant. As he waits, your
father also can increase the likelihood of a successful
transplant by following a healthy lifestyle, including eating
well, not smoking, staying active and reducing stress. If he
has questions or concerns, encourage him to talk with his