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Factors Affecting Heart Transplant Patient Longevity

written by: kyliebling1 • edited by: dianahardin • updated: 10/30/2010

Many medical issues must be considered before a heart transplant procedure. Once the surgery is complete, the heart transplant patient longevity can be impacted by several different factors. Patient's often need to make dramatic life changes to increase their longevity.

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    What Is a Heart Transplant?

    A diseased heart can be replaced by a healthy heart in a surgical procedure called a heart transplant. The first step in the surgery is the removal of the diseased heart by placing the patient on an external heart bypass pump which controls the blood circulation, keeping the patient alive during the procedure. The heart bypass external pump process can only be used for a relatively short period of time, so it is imperative that the surgery move as quickly as possible.

    Once the donor heart is reconnected to all the blood vessels, the patient is brought off the external pump carefully and the new transplanted heart takes over the job of circulation. Once the heart transplant takes place, there are several hurdles a patient still has to undergo to insure the entire procedure is a complete success.

    Not all people are eligible for a heart transplant, since a heart transplants success rate starts from the moment a person is considered for the procedure. Factors that must be considered before a heart transplant takes place include the patient's age, hypertension, having already undergone a previous transplant procedure and a patient's antibody levels.

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    Expected Longevity

    A successful heart transplant can however improve a person's quality of life and life expectancy by anywhere from one year to over 20 years of life, depending on many factors including the patient's compliance to their doctor's post-operative instructions, the success of immune suppressors to maintain the new heart's acceptance and strict medical observation and management of any complications.

    The success rate for heart transplants has increased significantly over the last decade. Once the patient has passed the first 30 days after surgery without any severe medical complications, the longevity vastly depends on the patient's ability to follow their post-operative instructions.

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    Risks

    The body's immune system normally rejects any foreign tissue or organ, such as a donor heart, by attacking it. Therefore, medications used to suppress the immune system must be strictly followed to prevent any transplant rejection.

    While extremely necessary for the body's acceptance of the heart, immune suppressant drugs are also known to cause many disturbing medical complications such as ulcers and infections.

    The transplant patient must also be carefully monitored by their cardiologist using routine medical tests such as regular blood work, EKGs and ECGs, as well as any other medical procedures that may be deemed necessary.

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    Factors Impacting Longevity

    As a transplant recipient, it is extremely necessary to focus your attention on doing all you can to strengthen and improve your overall health. There are many general health and lifestyle improvements that you can make in which to increase your transplant longevity.

    Always follow all post-transplant medical instructions including strict adherence to a medication plan, following a physician-approved post-transplant exercise regimen, making healthy lifestyle changes, like cessation of smoking, and following all transplant diet restrictions. Diet restrictions can include monitoring cholesterol levels, maintaining a low-fat, salt-restrictive diet, as well as a diet high in fiber.

    You will also need to manage your weight and lower any stress factors. Hypertension and other medical complications can significantly impact life expectancy. Therefore, both you and your physician should carefully monitor and evaluate your overall health at all times.

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    Resources

    Mayo Clinic: Heart Transplants

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