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What is the process for getting a heart transplant?

I have been told by my cardiologist that I need a heart transplant because my heart has become very enlarged and weak. My BP was under 100/80 today. The doctor says that they want my BP to be low so that my heart does not have to work too hard. My questions are: What is the process for getting a heart transplant? What is the recovery like? Will I have to be on medications for the rest of my life? What about my pacemaker / defibrillator? Will I still need them?

submitted by Nancy from San Jose, California on 10/11/2012


William E. Cohn, MDby Texas Heart Institute cardiovascular surgeon, William E. Cohn, MD  

Hello Nancy. Your doctors are correct. It is best to keep your blood pressure as low as possible, as long as you don't feel too weak or dizzy. Low blood pressure decreases the work your weakened heart has to perform. To be considered for a heart transplant, you would need to be seen by a cardiologist that specializes in the management of heart failure, and all treatment options considered. If it is decided that transplant is the best option, you would be placed on a waiting list to wait for an acceptable donor organ to become available. The recovery period depends largely  on your general health and physical condition, with many patients leaving the hospital after 10 days to 2 weeks. Almost all heart transplant patients are prescribed anti-rejection medications which must be taken for the rest of your life. If you stop taking them, your body's immune system could start to attack the transplanted heart. After a heart transplant, the pacemaker and defibrillator, which were placed to assist your weakened heart are no longer necessary and they are generally removed. 

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Updated October 2012
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