Steps towards a heart transplant

This outlines the entire heart transplant process

Key points

  • Your heart doctor will discuss your options with you and arrange any transplant tests
  • It may take a long time to match you to a suitable donor. Sometimes a donor cannot be found
  • A transplant is a major operation and complications can arise during and after surgery
  • After a transplant, you will need to take daily medicines for the rest of your life

1. Discuss your options with a doctor 

Your transplant team will be able to advise on whether a heart transplant is the right treatment for you. They will discuss the benefits and risks with you, along with possible alternative treatments.

Having a heart transplant is a big decision and every patient's case is unique. You will need to take daily medicines for as long as the heart transplant continues to work and there is a chance the transplant will fail. But if it does function, a transplant is the most effective treatment for heart failure.

Learn about the risks and benefits of a heart transplant

2. Referral to a transplant unit

Doctor and patient sitting and talkingClinical teams usually work closely with one preferred transplant unit, often the nearest one.

If you want to be referred to a specific transplant unit, then the advantages and disadvantages of this should be discussed with your heart doctor. Sometimes there can be differences in waiting times between transplant units.

Find information on waiting times for transplantation

Learn more about heart transplant centres in the UK

3. Tests to see if you’re suitable for a heart transplant

If your doctor thinks a heart transplant is a possible treatment, they will arrange for you to have a series of tests.

These are to find out whether your body can cope with the surgery and whether you have certain antibodies, which could make it more likely for your body to reject the transplant.

Find out what tests are needed

4. Waiting for a heart

Sometimes a heart transplant is needed urgently, for example after a heart attack. For most patients it is a lengthier process as it relies on matching you with a compatible donor.

To receive a heart from a deceased donor you will need to go on the national transplant list and wait to be matched with a suitable heart.

Find answers to your donation questions


5. Being admitted to the transplant centre

If your transplant team decide to accept an offered heart, you will be asked to come to the transplant centre. You’ll have tests to check the surgery can go ahead.

Your surgeon will explain how the operation will be performed and discuss the risks and benefits. The heart will be checked to make sure it is suitable for transplantation.

Learn more about going in for a heart transplant

6. Having heart transplant surgery

A heart transplant is a major operation that lasts around 4-6 hours. Donor hearts are transplanted in the same place in your chest as your old heart.

Plastic tubes will be inserted into your neck for administering fluids and medicines. You will also have a catheter (tube) inserted to remove urine from your bladder. These tubes will be taken out a later date.

Learn more about heart transplant surgery


7. After a heart transplant

You will need to stay in hospital for at least a few weeks. Your transplant team will monitor your progress and let you know when you can go home.

You will need follow-up appointments at the hospital. Extra support can be arranged at home, if needed. You will also need to take daily medicines to prevent rejection.

Learn about living with a heart transplant


More information

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