Diagnosis & Testing
Can a Person Lead a Normal Life After a Transplant?
With the exception of having to take lifelong medication to keep the body from rejecting the new heart, many heart transplant recipients lead long and productive lives.
However, there are some things to keep in mind.
- Medications. As mentioned, after a heart transplant, patients must take several medications. The most important are those to keep the body from rejecting the transplant. These medications, which must be taken for life, can cause significant side effects, including high blood pressure, fluid retention, excessive hair growth, bone thinning osteoporosis and possible kidney damage. To combat these problems, additional drugs are often prescribed.
- Exercise. Heart transplant recipients can exercise and are encouraged to exercise to improve the function of the heart and to avoid weight gain. However, due to changes in the heart related to the transplant, patients should speak to their doctor or cardiac rehabilitation specialist before beginning an exercise program. Because the nerves leading to the heart are cut during the operation, the transplanted heart beats faster (about 100 to 110 beats per minute) than the normal heart (about 70 beats per minute). The new heart also responds more slowly to exercise and doesn’t increase its rate as quickly as before.
- Diet. After transplant, the patient may need to follow a special diet, which may involve many of the same dietary changes made prior to surgery. A low-fat, low-sodium diet will decrease the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and fluid retention. Your doctor will discuss your specific dietary needs, and a registered dietitian can help you understand specific dietary guidelines.
How Long Can a Person Live After a Heart Transplant?
How long you live after a transplant depends on many factors, including age, general health and response to the transplant. Recent figures show that 80% of heart transplant patients live at least 2 years after surgery. Nearly 85% return to work or other activities they previously enjoyed. Many patients enjoy swimming, cycling, running or other sports.
Is a Heart Transplant Covered by Insurance?
In most cases, the costs related to a heart transplant are covered by health insurance. More than 80% of commercial insurers and 97% of Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans offer coverage for heart transplants. Medicaid programs in most states and the District of Columbia also reimburse for transplants. Medicare will cover heart transplants in Medicare-eligible patients if the operation is performed at an approved center.
It is important to do your own research and find out if your specific health insurance provider covers this treatment, and if you will be responsible for any costs.
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