Care after a heart transplant

Ongoing Education, Care and Support

Taking an active role in your health is imperative to success. Our transplant team goes beyond the expected to make sure you're ready to heal and care for yourself from the comforts of your own home. We'll make sure you understand and are comfortable with caring for yourself. You will also receive detailed instructions about your medications that must be taken every day, as well as detailed instructions on exercise and diet guidelines. A dietitian will help you with any dietary questions, and a member of the Cardiac Rehab team will guide you through exercise requirements and goals.

Nebraska Medicine's transplant team will continue to be a resource for you, and will remain in contact with you long after you leave the hospital.

As a patient, these are your responsibilities to help assure a successful heart transplant:

  • Take all medications as instructed
  • Have all lab work and testing done as scheduled
  • See caregivers regularly
  • Eat healthy foods and exercise per instructed by a dietitian
  • Call the transplant coordinator or doctor if there are any symptoms of rejection, infection or any other problem

Warning signs or symptoms to look for following a heart transplant:

  • Any changes in your incisions, such as redness, swelling, drainage, increased tenderness or opening of your incisions
  • Temperature higher than 100 degrees F
  • Changes in the sensation, movement or circulation in your arms or legs
  • Changes in the location, type or severity of pain
  • Chest pain, pressure or recurrence of your previous heart pain
  • Pain that is unrelieved
  • Fast or irregular heart rate

What does rejection mean with a heart transplant?

The first thing you need to understand is that rejection is not a disease; it's the normal reaction of the body to a foreign object. Rejection can be acute or chronic.

Acute Rejection - This typically occurs in the first weeks to months after a transplant. Acute transplant rejection is an expected part of the recovery process and can develop at any time. To allow the donor organ to successfully live in the body, medications must be given to trick the immune system into accepting the transplant and to not think of it as a foreign object.

Chronic Rejection - This rejection occurs later after the transplant. It is somewhat common and develops more gradually and can go on for months or years. It is often compared to coronary artery disease. Preventing and treating acute rejection may reduce the possibility of chronic rejection.

Since rejection is caused by the immune system, we call methods to prevent it immunosuppression. Many of the medications given to patients are to prevent this antigen-antibody reaction from occurring. You will have a medication plan uniquely designed for you, and it may include different immunosuppressive combinations and dosages at various times. The ideal goal of your individual medication plan is to hold back organ rejection while reducing drug toxicity and the risk for infection.


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