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A heart transplant is a type of surgery in which a doctor replaces your diseased heart with a healthy heart.

Why might I need a heart transplant? You might need a heart transplant if you have severe heart failure. Heart failure is a condition in which the heart doesn’t pump as well as it should. It can cause symptoms such as trouble breathing, feeling tired, or swelling in the feet, legs, or belly.

Before you have a heart transplant, your doctor will try other treatments first. Your doctor will only recommend a heart transplant if all other treatments fail.

What happens before I can get a heart transplant? Before you can get a heart transplant, you need to go through a number of steps.

Your doctor will send you to a heart transplant center. At the heart transplant center, you will have exams and blood tests, and talk with different doctors. The doctors will ask about your:

Other medical conditions and medicines you take

Lifestyle (for example, smoking, alcohol, or drug use)

Family and other support system

You might also get a device to help your heart pump. This device is called an “LVAD” and goes inside your chest. Some people have an LVAD before they have a heart transplant. Some people have an LVAD instead of a heart transplant.

Not everyone who is sent to a heart transplant center will get a transplant. To be considered for a heart transplant, you need to meet certain conditions. For example, you need to:

Have severe heart failure that hasn’t gotten better with other treatments

Not currently have certain other medical conditions, such as cancer or an infection

Agree not to smoke, drink, or use drugs – Doing these things can harm your new heart.

Be willing to take medicines for the rest of your life after surgery

If you meet all of the required conditions, your doctors will send your information to an organization called “UNOS.” UNOS keeps a list of every person in the country who is waiting for a heart transplant. When a new heart becomes available, UNOS decides who is next on the list to get it.

While you are waiting for your heart transplant, your doctors will follow your health closely. If your condition changes, they will let UNOS know.

Sometimes, people get other medical problems while they are waiting for their heart transplant. If you get other problems, you might need to wait longer while your doctor treats those problems.

What happens when a heart becomes available? When a heart becomes available, UNOS chooses the person who is the best match for that heart. People who are waiting for a heart need to carry a cell phone or pager at all times so that they can be reached quickly.

When you get called for your heart transplant, you will need to get to the hospital quickly.

What happens after a heart transplant ?After surgery, most people stay in the hospital for a few weeks before going home. In the hospital and at home, your doctors will follow you and do tests to make sure that your new heart is working correctly.

After a heart transplant, doctors will continue to do regular exams and tests on your heart. People with a heart transplant need to see their doctors regularly and take medicines for the rest of their lives. These medicines include “anti-rejection medicines.” They help the body’s infection-fighting system (called the “immune system”) accept the new heart. Normally, the immune system helps people stay healthy by attacking objects in the body that came in from the outside (“foreign objects”). Anti-rejection medicines help keep the body from attacking the new heart.

What problems can people have after a heart transplant? In most cases, people do well after surgery. They can go to work and be active. But some problems can happen after a heart transplant. These problems can happen right after the surgery or years later. They include:

Rejection of the new heart – Even though people take anti-rejection medicines, their body might still reject and attack the new heart.

Narrowing of the blood vessels in the new heart

Side effects from the anti-rejection medicines – These medicines have short-term side effects. For example, they increase a person’s chance of getting infections. They also have long-term side effects. For example, they can increase a person’s chance of getting certain types of cancer.