A heart transplant is an operation in which the diseased heart in a person is replaced with a healthy heart from a deceased donor. Ninety percent of heart transplants are performed on patients with end-stage heart failure.
Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is damaged or weakened and can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. "End-stage" means the condition has become so severe that all treatments, other than heart transplant, have failed.
Heart transplants are done as a life-saving measure for end-stage heart failure when medical treatment and less drastic surgery have failed. Because donor hearts are in short supply, patients who need a heart transplant go through a careful selection process. They need to be sick enough to need a new heart, yet healthy enough to receive it.
Survival rates for people receiving a heart transplant have improved over the past 5 to 10 years—especially in the first year after the transplant. About 88% of patients survive the first year after transplant surgery, and 72% survive for 5 years. The 10-year survival rate is close to 50%, and 16% of heart transplant patients survive 20 years.
After the surgery, most heart-transplant recipients (about 90%) can come close to resuming their normal daily activities. However, fewer than 40% return to work for many different reasons.
The heart-transplant process
The heart-transplant process starts when doctors refer patients with end-stage heart failure to a heart-transplant centre for evaluation. Patients found to be eligible for a heart transplant are 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, patients are started on a lifelong health-care plan involving multiple medicines and frequent medical monitoring.
Source: US National Institutes of Health: Heart, Lung and Blood Institute