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Heart transplant

Recovery from heart transplants

Heart transplant surgery can take four hours or longer. Initial recovery after a heart transplant takes place in an intensive care unit at the hospital or transplant center. You can expect to spend at least a week in the hospital following your operation, depending on your specific case.

Full recovery after a heart transplant can take several months. Cardiac rehabilitation can help you recover and return to daily activities through slow but progressive mild exercise.

You may experience some symptoms of organ rejection during the first few months after your transplant. Many people who receive heart transplants experience at least one episode of rejection. Rejection happens when your immune system sees the new heart as a foreign object and tries to get rid of it.

To help your body accept a donor heart, you will need lifelong anti-rejection drugs. These medicines reduce your immune system response, so they can cause side effects and complications. However, they are necessary for maintaining your transplant, since they prevent your immune system from attacking your donor heart.

After recovery, you will need to:

  • Prevent illnesses and infections
  • Watch for signs of rejection
  • Treat other health conditions that could affect your heart, including high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Follow a lifelong care plan, including heart muscle biopsies and heart catheterizations
  • Take lifelong anti-rejection medicines
  • Manage anti-rejection medicines and their side effects
  • Plan any attempt at pregnancy carefully with your healthcare provider

Transplant recipients often need support to work through emotional issues surrounding transplantation. Talk with your doctor or transplant team to connect with people who can help.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.