After your transplant, you will continue routine clinic visits with your transplant doctors to ensure your new heart is working properly and identify potential rejection. A heart transplant is a treatment; it is not a cure for end-stage heart failure or severe coronary disease. You will need to make lifestyle modifications to maintain your health.
What is Rejection?
Your immune system will see your donor heart as a foreign object that's not supposed to be in your body, and will try to attack it as though it were a virus. In order to counteract the immune system’s response, you will be required to take immunosuppressants — medications that reduce the activity of the immune system.
Transplant patients are typically prescribed two to three lifelong medications to prevent rejection. It is critical that you follow your doctor’s instructions regarding medication exactly. If you miss doses of medication, rejection can be severe and serious.
- Doses of medication should never be missed.
- The schedule and dosage of each medication should never be changed without discussing with your transplant physicians first.
- All over-the-counter medications should be avoided, as there are many drug-to-drug interactions with immunosuppressants.
- Take precautions to prevent infection such as hand washing and minimizing exposure to crowds and people who are ill.
- Notify the heart transplant team before you take any new medications prescribed by other providers so that they can be checked for drug-to-drug interactions.
Medication Side Effects
Immunosuppressant medications don’t just affect your immune system — they can affect your entire body. Because of this, you may experience a variety of negative side effects. Not every patient experiences every side effect, or experiences them in the same way. Make sure you discuss any side effects with your doctor. Your doctor may be able to adjust your medication dosage or give you an additional medication to relieve the side effect. Remember; never adjust your medication on your own.
Immunosuppressant Side Effects
- Nausea and vomiting
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Puffy face
- Weakened bones
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Trouble sleeping
- Mood swings
- Swelling and tingling of the hands and feet
- Acne and other skin problems
- Hair loss or unwanted hair growth
Infection in Heart Transplant Recipients
Because transplant medications affect your immune system, they can also increase the risk of infection. This risk is highest the first six months after your heart transplant, and any time your medication dosage is increase to treat signs of rejection.
Quality of Life
Although a heart transplant requires some lifestyle modifications, most patients report a high quality of life. Our patients work, travel, exercise, and, most importantly, spend quality time with their loved ones.