Staying healthy after a heart transplant

Healthy eating, regular exercise and not smoking will help with your recovery

Key points

  • Healthy eating will help you maintain a good weight and prevent illnesses like diabetes
  • Keeping active will help improve your fitness and prevent blood clots
  • It’s important not to smoke
  • Talk to your transplant team for further guidance and support

How to look after yourself after a heart transplant

The care of you and your transplanted heart is on-going, and you need to stay as fit and healthy as you can so that the transplant will work for as long as possible.

Don't smoke

You must quit smoking before you are considered for a heart transplant. Smoking increases the risk of strokes, heart and lung problems. Giving up cigarettes will help prevent problems during the transplant surgery and maintain your health after your transplant. If you smoke after your transplant your heart is likely to suffer irreversible damage earlier than it otherwise would.

Go to NHS Stop Smoking Services 

Eat and drink the right things

After your transplant, it’s important to eat a sensible, balanced diet to help encourage your transplant to work well. Aim for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day and plenty of wholegrain foods that are high in fibre. Avoid too much sugar, saturated fats and salt. A low sugar diet is particularly important for managing diabetes. A diet low in saturated fat will help to keep your cholesterol levels controlled.

Many people are able to drink alcohol in moderation after a transplant, but this is not recommended for liver transplant patients.

Take regular exercise

Keeping active is very important after a transplant. In the first few weeks, you should try to walk a little every day to prevent blood clots. As you recover, you can do more.

If your recovery is going well, after 6-8 weeks, you will usually be encouraged to start exercising more. In time, most sports and activities are possible. You must talk to your transplant team before considering taking part in heavy contact sports (e.g. rugby, martial arts, boxing).

Aim for a healthy weight

Weight gain is common after a transplant, especially in the first year. This is often a side effect of the medication, but it can also be because your diet is less restrictive. Or because you have a better appetite due to improving health. However, too much weight gain places a strain on your heart and blood vessels so it’s important to eat healthily and stay active as much as possible. 

Being a healthier weight can help to lower your chances of having problems with your recovery. You should lose weight by increasing the amount of exercise you do and taking extra care with your diet. Speak to your transplant team for more advice on losing weight.

Wear sunscreen and be careful in the sun

Cancers, especially skin cancers, are more common in patients who have had a heart transplant. Avoid staying out in the sun for long periods, and wear factor 50 sunblock, long-sleeved shirts and a hat if you are in the sun. If you are invited for cancer screening tests (e.g. a mammogram, a cervical smear or bowel cancer screening) it’s strongly recommended that you attend

Control your blood pressure

Taking regular exercise, eating a balanced diet and keeping to a healthy weight are very important for controlling blood pressure. It’s not just about taking blood pressure tablets!

Keep your bones strong

Again, exercise is important, but you may need bone scans to find out if there is any thinning of your bones. You may be advised about changes to your lifestyle or even given medication if there’s a problem.

Get support from your transplant team

They can help you with diet plans, activity schedules and avoiding smoking again.

 More information

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