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Heart Transplant Rejection Levels

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 8/18/2010

Have you or a loved one had a heart transplant? If so, read on to learn more about heart transplant rejection levels.

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    A heart transplant is performed to remove a heart that is diseased or damaged and replace it with a donor heart that is healthy. The donor heart is donated by a person who is on life support, but declared brain-dead. The patient receiving the transplant tissue type must be matched as closely as possible to the donor heart to decrease their chances of rejecting their new heart. Heart transplant rejection levels must be well-known for the patient to know what to look for in terms of heart transplant rejection symptoms and what can cause their transplant to be rejected by their body.

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    Causes

    A heart transplant can be rejected by the body because the body's immune system sees it as foreign and fights against it. Doctors take great measures to prevent this, but for some patients it will happen regardless of the measures the doctors take. However, Medline Plus states that approximately 80 percent of patients are alive two years after receiving a heart transplant.

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    Signs and Symptoms

    When the body is rejecting a transplanted heart, certain signs and symptoms can occur. These include:

    • Having a fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Feeling lightheaded or dizziness
    • Blood pressure will either be high or low
    • Having a wound that will not heal or sores
    • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, earache, or sore throat
    • Fatigue and feeling tired
    • High blood sugar levels (greater than 250)
    • Gaining weight (five pounds in a week or two pounds in two days)
    • Shortness of breath
    • Chest pain
    • Burning or painful urination
    • Diarrhea
    • Cough (can be with or without sputum)
    • Generally not feeling well
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    Prevention

    Doctors do a variety of things to try and make sure the patient's new heart is not rejected by the body. For the first six to twelve months after a patient has a heart transplant they will have a heart biopsy once a month. After the first year, this will still be done, but less often. This is done to examine the heart's health and it helps doctors determine if the heart is being rejected prior to the symptoms of rejection occurring.

    X-rays and blood testing are done regularly to ensure the patient is as healthy as possible to help prevent rejection.

    Immunosuppressant drugs will be prescribed to the patient and these must be taken for the rest of the patient's life. These drugs help to suppress the immune system so that the immune system does not aggressively attack the new heart.

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    Resources

    Medline Plus. (2009). Heart Transplant. Retrieved on July 27, 2010 from Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003003.htm

    National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (2010). Heart Transplant. Retrieved on July 27, 2010 from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/ht/ht_risks.html

    Columbia University Medical Center, Department of Surgery. (2007). Heart Transplant. Retrieved on July 27, 2010 from Columbia University Medical Center Department of Surgery: http://www.cumc.columbia.edu/dept/cs/pat/hearttx/faqs_hearttx.html