Risks from the donated heart

Find out what factors can affect the health of a donated heart

Key points

  • All donated hearts carry some risk, though in general this is much lower than the risk posed by your heart disease
  • Some hearts are likely to work for longer than others
  • It is possible for diseases to be passed to you through the donated heart
  • Many factors in the donor can affect how well the transplant works

All donated hearts carry some risk

All donated hearts that are accepted for a transplant carry some risk; donor heart function is often abnormal immediately after the transplant although most improve after a few days of support.

For some donors there is a small risk of transmitting a condition to you, such as infections or cancers. The transplant team will only accept such organs if they feel that the risk is less than the risk of continuing on medication without a transplant.

When you are listed for a transplant you will be asked if you are willing to accept hearts from certain categories of donors. There is usually insufficient time for you to consider these factors at the time an organ becomes available.

Factors that can affect the health of a donated heart

Age is the most important factor that can affect the health of a donated heart.

The function of the new heart and its longevity are affected by the age of the donor. In practice, there is a compromise between waiting for an ideal younger donor and the risk of not surviving on the waiting list while you wait. When you are listed for a transplant, you may be asked whether you will accept a heart from a donor above 60 years in age.

How can the donor’s medical history affect your heart transplant?

There are many donor health issues that could affect how well a transplant works:

What happens if your donor is found to have health issues?

Your heart transplant team will tell you if there are any unusual concerns about the donor’s previous health or lifestyle that may lead to risks for you. You will be told how this might affect your health and how well a transplanted heart from this donor might work.

What do you need to know about your donor?

More information

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