Why heart transplants are carried out
A heart transplant may be considered if you have severe heart failure and medical treatments aren’t helping.
Conditions that may eventually require a heart transplant include:
- coronary heart disease – a build-up of fatty substances in the arteries supplying the heart, which block or interrupt blood flow to the heart
- cardiomyopathy – where the walls of the heart have become stretched, thickened or stiff
- congenital heart disease – birth defects that affect the normal workings of the heart
If your doctor thinks you might benefit from a heart transplant, you’ll need to have an in-depth assessment to check whether you’re healthy enough to have one before being placed on a waiting list.
Risks of a heart transplant
A heart transplant is a complex and risky procedure.
Possible complications include:
- the immune system recognising the transplanted heart as foreign and attacking it (rejection)
- the donated heart fails to work properly (graft failure)
- narrowing of the arteries supplying the heart (cardiac allograft vasculopathy)
- side effects from the immunosuppressant medication, such as an increased vulnerability to infections, weight gain and kidney problems
Many of these problems are treatable, although sometimes another heart transplant may need to be carried out if possible.
Read more about the risks associated with a heart transplant.
Outlook for heart transplants
Most people can eventually return to their normal activities after a heart transplant and experience a significant improvement in their symptoms for many years.
However, it’s a major operation and some of the complications can be life threatening.
- 80-90 in every 100 people will live at least a year
- 70-75 in every 100 people will live at least five years
- 50 in every 100 people will live at least 10 years
Some people have survived for more than 25 years after a heart transplant.
A lung transplant is an operation to remove and replace a diseased lung with a healthy human lung from a donor.
A donor is usually a person who’s died, but in rare cases a section of lung can be taken from a living donor.
Lung transplants aren’t carried out frequently in the UK. This is mainly because of the lack of available donors. In England, during 2013-14, 198 lung transplants were carried out.
Types of transplant
There are 3 main types of lung transplant:
- a single lung transplant – where a single damaged lung is removed from the recipient and replaced with a lung from the donor; this is often used to treat pulmonary fibrosis, but it isn’t suitable for people with cystic fibrosis because infection will spread from the remaining lung to the donated lung
- a double lung transplant – where both lungs are removed and replaced with 2 donated lungs; this is usually the main treatment option for people with cystic fibrosis or COPD
- a heart-lung transplant – where the heart and both lungs are removed and replaced with a donated heart and lungs; this is often recommended for people with severe pulmonary hypertension
The demand for lung transplants is far greater than the available supply of donated lungs. Therefore, a transplant will only be carried out if it’s thought there’s a relatively good chance of it being successful.
For example, a lung transplant wouldn’t be recommended for someone with lung cancer because the cancer could reoccur in the donated lungs.
You also won’t be considered for a lung transplant if you smoke.