Care after a heart transplant

Ongoing education, care and support

Taking an active role in your health is imperative to success. Our transplant team goes beyond the expected to ensure you're ready to heal and care for yourself from the comfort of your home. You will receive detailed education about how to care for your new organ, instructions about your medications that must be taken every day, as well as instructions on exercise and diet guidelines. A multidisciplinary team will be assigned to help with all aspects of your health and recovery. The Nebraska Medicine transplant team will continue to be a resource for you and will remain in contact with you long after you leave the hospital.

As a patient, these are your responsibilities to help assure a successful heart transplant:

  • Take all medications as instructed
  • Have all lab work and testing done as scheduled
  • See your heart transplant providers regularly and stay in close communication at all times
  • Establish a primary care provider who will help manage health care needs outside of the transplant
  • Eat healthy foods and exercise as instructed by the dietitian and cardiac rehab
  • Obtain necessary vaccines before and after the transplant
  • Call the transplant coordinator or doctor if there are any symptoms of rejection, infection or any other problem

Warning signs or symptoms to look for following a heart transplant:

  • Any changes in your incisions, such as redness, swelling, drainage, increased tenderness or opening of your incisions
  • Temperature two degrees higher than your normal temperature or >100.5 degrees,
  • Difficulty breathing, especially while lying on your back
  • Changes in the location, type or severity of pain and/or pain that is constant and does not go away
  • Fast, slow, or irregular heart rate
  • Unexplained poor appetite
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

What does rejection mean with a heart transplant?

A possible complication that you can develop after transplantation is called rejection.  Rejection is not a disease; it's the normal reaction of the immune system to make antibodies to destroy the new organ, not realizing that the transplanted heart is beneficial.  Rejection can be acute or chronic. To allow the donor organ to successfully live in your body, medications must be given to trick your immune system into accepting the transplant, called immunosuppression. 

Acute rejection typically occurs in the first weeks to months after a transplant. Acute transplant rejection is an expected part of the recovery process and can develop anytime.

Chronic rejection occurs later after the transplant. It is somewhat common, develops more gradually, and can go on for months or years. It is often compared to coronary artery disease.

Since the immune system causes rejection, we call methods to prevent it immunosuppression. You will have a medication plan uniquely designed for you, which may include different immunosuppressive combinations and dosages at various times. The goal of your medication plan is to hold back organ rejection while reducing drug toxicity and the risk of infection.


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