A heart transplant is when a diseased
heart is replaced by a healthy human heart from a donor.
Because there are not enough suitable and available donor
hearts, not everyone who could benefit from a transplant can have
Last year, there were 145 heart and 3 heart and lung
transplants at seven hospitals around the UK.
Who might need a heart transplant?
A heart transplant may be considered if you have severe
heart failure. If your
condition is serious and other treatments are not managing to
improve things or control your symptoms, your cardiologist may send
you to a heart transplant centre for a transplant
How do I know if I'm eligible for a heart transplant?
Your assessment will determine whether you need a transplant and
whether you are suitable for one. Based on your assessment, you may
- suitable for a transplant, in which case you will be put onto
the transplant waiting list. This means you could be called for a
transplant at any time.
- suitable for a transplant, but the consultants do not think
your condition is severe enough to warrant being put on the waiting
list. If this happens your case will be reviewed regularly. If your
condition gets worse, you will go on the waiting list.
- in need of further investigations or treatment. If your
condition changes you can be assessed again.
- an unsuitable case for a heart transplant. This could be for a
number of reasons and the transplant team will explain why you are
not suitable and discuss how you can be treated further. You can
also be referred to another centre for a second opinion.
How long is the wait for a heart transplant?
If you are considered suitable for a heart transplant you will
be added to the transplant waiting list. Once you are on the list,
a suitable heart may come along within a few days or it may take
many months or even years.
Unfortunately, suitable hearts do not become available for
everyone and only 8 out of 10 people receive the heart
transplant they require. In the UK, adults and children can wait
over a year for a transplant.
What happens during a heart transplant operation?
It’s natural for you to feel excited,
emotional or anxious about your surgery and life afterwards.
Remember that a transplanted heart is no more than a new pump -
it does not change your personality or behaviours.
A heart transplant operation usually takes between
four and six
- At the start of the procedure you’ll be given a general
- The surgeon will make a cut in your breastbone to get access to
your heart.You will be connected to a heart-lung bypass machine
which makes the blood circulate around your body.
- Your surgeon will then work on transplanting your new
- When this is finished, they will start your heart beating
again. When you heart begins to take over pumping and your
condition is stable, the heart-lung machine will be turned
- The surgeon will then close your breastbone with wire, which
will stay there for the rest of your life.
After the operation you will be moved to the intensive care
unit. Most people wake the following day. You will be sedated and
breathe with the help of a ventilator machine until you are able to
breathe for yourself.
If you have any questions or if anything is worrying you, you
can talk to your transplant team, the Transplant Support
Network or call our Heart
Helpline on 0300 330 3311.
What happens after the transplant?
Most people leave hospital within about four
weeks after the operation, but depending on your
condition, you may need to stay in hospital for longer.
In the first few months after your surgery you will need to
spend a lot of time visiting the hospital – you might even need to
stay near the transplant centre. Your transplant team will talk to
you about practical arrangements for after your surgery.
Although you will be weak after the operation, recovery can be
very quick. It is important to build up your level of activity
gradually. You should avoid activities involving lifting and
pushing until your breastbone is fully healed, which can take up to
three or four months.
Once you feel fit and able, you can start doing things like
light vacuuming or light gardening.
What is life like after a heart transplant?
Once you’ve recovered from surgery you
should be able to return to a wide range of activities including
driving, holidays and physical activity - some people are even able
to go back to work.
You will need to take a number of
medicines, including immunosuppressants, for the rest of your
life. Without them your body would rapidly recognise your new
heart as ‘foreign’ and try to reject it. This type of
medicine can have side-effects which your doctor will discuss with
Many people who have had a successful heart transplant go on to
live long and healthy lives. Over three-quarters of heart
transplant patients live for over five years.
Where can I find out more?
transplantation booklet talks in detail about
heart transplantation and is for people who have had, or are
waiting for a heart transplant, and their family and friends.
- The Transplant Support
Network (TSN) are a nationwide network of volunteer
transplant patients and their carers, who provide support and
information for others coping with transplants
- The NHS Blood and
Transplant special health authority within the NHS
provides support to transplantation services across the UK and
makes sure that donated organs are matched and used in a fair
way. They also provide information and statistics on
heart and other transplants.
Do you want to help find donor hearts?
Did you know that on average, three people die every day in the
UK whilst waiting for an organ transplant? That’s 1,000
people a year, dying due to a shortage of donor organs.
9 out of 10 people say they support organ donation
but only 3 in 10 actually go on to sign the
You can help by signing up to the NHS Organ Donation Register, and
spread the word to your family and friends. This is a register for
anyone who wants to donate their heart or other organs.
You can help by signing up to the NHS Organ Donation
Register, and spreading the word to your family and
friends. This is a register for anyone who wants to donate
their heart or other organs.