Heart function and transplant Types Recovery time

What does your heart do?

Your heart is a muscular pump about the size of your fist. It is located in the center of your chest behind your sternum (the flat bone at the center of your rib cage). Your heart pumps blood throughout your body, which circulates oxygen and nutrients to all of your body’s tissues and organs to help them stay healthy. Circulating blood also carries carbon dioxide away from your body’s cells. The waste products are then filtered through your liver, kidneys, and lungs. Each day your heart beats about 100,000 times, pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood.

What happens when your heart is not working the way it should?

A number of diseases and conditions can cause damage to your heart. These conditions include longstanding heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy) or cell death caused by heart attacks, coronary artery disease, heart valve disease, heart failure, and congenital heart disease. Most of them take time to develop. Symptoms for each of these diseases are different and depend on your condition and how serious it is.

Symptoms of these conditions may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Edema (fluid buildup in the tissues)
  • Chest pain

Why might you need a heart transplant?

If your doctor has recommended a heart transplant to you, this may be because your heart:

  • Is damaged
  • Is not working correctly
  • Cannot be treated by any other medicines or surgeries

If you are considering a heart transplant, the first step in the process may be to make sure that you are an appropriate candidate. In order to determine your eligibility for a heart transplant, your transplant team may evaluate considerations like your medical history, current health status, financial situation, and caregiver and/or support system. Some of the things that may prevent a person from receiving a transplant include:

However, for some patients, a heart transplant may be an option. There are also machines that help improve how well your heart works. Sometimes they are used to help a person until a donor heart becomes available.

Where does your transplanted heart come from?

In order to be able to have a heart transplant, you will need a donated heart. This heart will come from a deceased donor. This is someone who has agreed before their death to donate his or her organs for transplant. If this is the procedure for you, you may be put on a waiting list until a suitable heart becomes available. You may want to talk to your transplant team if you have questions regarding how long the wait might be to find a compatible heart.

Types of heart transplants

A heart transplant may be an effective treatment for life-threatening heart disease or heart failure that can no longer be treated by any other option. According to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, the 1-year survival rate for patients who had a heart transplant between 2005 and 2007 was 88%, and the 3-year survival rate was 81%.

1-year survival rate

3-year survival rate

As with all surgical procedures, there is also a risk of complications associated with heart transplants. These complications are discussed below.

There are two different types of heart transplant surgeries, orthotopic and heterotopic. You may want to discuss these options with your transplant team so you can decide together which one is right for you.

Orthotopic transplant

This is the more common type of transplant. It involves removing the heart from the donor and replacing your heart with the donor heart. Once the donor heart has been removed, the transplant must take place within 4 to 5 hours.

Heterotopic (or “piggyback”) transplant

In this type of transplant, which is less common, your heart is not removed. Instead, the donor heart is placed into the right side of your chest.


There is always a risk of complications after a heart transplant. These may include:

  • Infection
  • Rejection of the transplanted heart
  • Bleeding
  • Clotting leading to heart attack, stroke, lung problems, or artery blockage
  • Breathing problems
  • Tiredness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Dizziness
  • Medicine side effects

If you have any concerns or questions about these complications or anything else to do with your transplant, talk to your transplant team.

Heart transplant 1- and 3-year survival rates for patients who had a heart transplant between 2005 and 2007 according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Patients 2012 Annual Data Report, http://srtr.transplant.hrsa.gov/annual_reports/2012/Default.aspx, accessed January 9, 2015.

Before your surgery, your transplant team will discuss the transplant and possible risks with you in detail. During the transplant, you will be placed on a heart-lung machine. The machine will take over the work of your heart and lungs.

Heart transplants may take 4 hours or longer (Your surgeon will keep your family informed)

After your transplant:

You may be in the intensive care unit for 1 to 2 days and in the transplant unit for about 7 to 14 days

You may have a disability period of 2 to 6 months or longer, depending on your health

  • Your health before the transplant often affects your recovery time
  • Physical therapy may be needed to help build your strength
  • Your transplant team is a resource for you and will advise you after your transplant on certain topics, including:
    • Taking your medicines
    • Monitoring your health