Exercise Benefits Heart Transplant Patients

Exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, and this is true for heart transplant patients as well as people who have not undergone surgery. A heart transplant patient can begin to start working with a physical therapist shortly after the surgery has been performed.

Physical activity is important for people recovering from a heart transplant because it helps to prevent blood clots and lung infections. Patients who are up and moving as soon as possible following surgery are less likely to develop painful bed sores as well.

Getting up and moving shortly after the procedure helps a heart transplant patient to gain strength. He or she may not have been able to exercise before the surgery because of health issues, and now is the time to start developing a healthier lifestyle.

Exercise Program While in Hospital

While a heart transplant patient is in hospital, he or she will continue to work with a physical therapist. A progressive program will be developed to help the patient build strength and endurance.

Breathing exercises are the first item on the list, and can be done while the patient is still in bed. These are simple, but a very important part of the recovery process since they help to prevent lung infections. The physical therapist or the nurse will instruct the patient to take a deep breath and then push the air out of his or her lungs.

Exercises for the legs and feet are also part of the exercise program for heart transplant patients. Performing these motions helps with blood circulation and helps to prevent blood clots from forming. Examples of leg and foot exercises include:

  • Wiggling the toes
  • Pointing the foot toward the face
  • Bending the knees upward
  • Rotating legs at the hip joint
  • Tightening and releasing muscles in legs and buttocks


Exercise for Heart Transplant Patients

  • Do include a warm-up in the routine.
  • Do push through to a period of intense physical activity and maintain this level for several minutes to give the heart a good workout. Aerobic activities like swimming, cycling and walking are good choices.
  • Do cool down for a few minutes after exercise by stretching or doing some walking.
  • Do check with your doctor before starting or changing your exercise program.


  • Don’t lift anything weighing more than 10 lb. for the first eight weeks following the surgery.
  • Don’t push or pull objects weighing 10 lb. or more unless your doctor or nurse gives you the go-ahead to do so.
  • Don’t do pull-ups, pushups or pull-ups.
  • Don’t continue performing any activity that causes pain or pulling in the chest area.


Heart Transplant Statistics

A heart transplant is not usually the first treatment that a doctor suggests for his or her patient, but in certain situations replacing a damaged or diseased organ with a healthy donor heart can be a life-saving solution. In cases where a patient’s heart has been damaged due to one of the following, it may be a viable option:

  • Coronary Artery Disease
  • Heart Disease
  • Heart Failure
  • Multiple Heart Attacks

Before a heart transplant is considered as a treatment option, doctors will make sure that other forms of treatment, including medications or less invasive surgical procedures have been considered first.

Heart Transplants by the Numbers

According to the American Heart Association, 2,163 heart transplants were performed in the United States in 2008.cardiovascular event graphic

In 2007, the numbers for heart transplants in the U.S. was slightly higher, with 2,210 patients receiving new hearts that year.

Most heart transplant patients are males (72.4 percent). Approximately two-thirds of donor heart recipients are Caucasian, and 54.2 percent are aged 50 or older.

Heart transplants aren’t just for middle-aged men, though: 19.4 percent of heart transplant patients are between the ages of 35-49.

Survival Rates for Heart Transplant Recipients

Having a heart transplant does prolong a patient’s life. The survival rate at the 12-month mark is 88 percent for men and 77.2 percent for women. At the five-year mark, the survival rate for males is 73.1 percent for males and 67.4 percent for females.

The reason more heart transplants are not performed is due to a shortage of healthy donor organs. If more people made the choice to consent to becoming an organ donor and discussed their wishes with their family members, thousands more lives could potentially be saved each year.

How Are Heart Transplant Recipients Selected?

Have you ever wondered how decisions about who should be given a heart transplant are made? The surgery has successfully been performed on newborn babies, as well as senior citizens. Unfortunately, not everyone who needs a new heart will receive one since there is a shortage of organs available for transplant.

A heart (or any other organ) may only be harvested and used for transplant purposes if the donor is brain dead and on a respirator. The next of kin must consent to the procedure as well. This can be difficult choice for people who are struggling to cope with the death of a loved one.

The person who is a good candidate for a heart transplant is someone who has heart disease and who is likely to have an increased life expectancy or quality of life afterward. A person who has had previous heart surgery or who currently has diabetes will not necessarily be excluded from the list of potential heart transplant recipients. Likewise, having undergone treatment for cancer doesn’t necessarily mean that a person can’t be put on the list.

Reasons a Heart Transplant Candidate may be Excluded

A person may be excluded from being placed on the heart transplant list if they have severe pulmonary disease or malignancies which have not yet been treated.

A person with an untreated addiction to chemicals or a substance is also not a good candidate for a heart transplant.

Following the surgery, the individual must follow a specialized treatment plan set out by his or her doctors. The patient will need to take anti-rejection drugs which cause a number of side effects, including the potential for weight gain and retaining fluid. A heart-healthy diet helps to counteract them, and is a good choice for overall health as well.

Heart Transplant Recipients Rely on “Luck of the Draw”

There are approximately 2,200 heart transplants performed in the United States each year, according to the American Heart Association. In 2008, 57 recipients of new hearts were between the ages of 6-10. The number one reason why a person may need to be placed on the transplant list for a heart is due to an infection.

Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, can lead to serious health consequences if left untreated. If the condition is not addressed in time, it can develop into heart failure. At that point, the patient needs a transplant in order to survive.

Being put on the transplant list is no guarantee that a heart of the right size and blood type will become available in time. Whether a match can be found unfortunately comes down to the “luck of the draw.”

Heart Transplant: A Costly Procedure

For someone who has a diseased or damaged heart and an otherwise healthy body, having a heart transplant can save their life. Once the procedure has been completed, the patient will need to take antibiotics and anti-rejection drugs, but his or her quality of life will be greatly improved.

One reason why more of these procedures are not performed is the staggering costs involved in performing the procedure, which is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not everyone who could benefit from a heart transplant has insurance coverage to pay for the cost of the procedure.

Another issue surrounding heart transplants is the lack of available organs for transplant. It’s important that people talk about their wishes on the issue of organ donation with their family and to sign an organ donor card if this is something they want to do.

Heart Transplant Basics

In the United States, approximately 2,300 heart transplants are successfully performed each year. Another 800 people died while on the waiting list. The surgery takes several hours and is one of the most common transplant surgeries performed in North America.

A donor heart is obtained from a person who is brain dead and on a respirator. After the donor heart is harvested, it is kept in a special solution to preserve it until it can be given to the patient who is waiting for it.

During surgery, the patient is given a general anesthetic. The surgeon must first cut through the breast bone to get access to his or her health. A heart-lung bypass machine is used to keep the blood full of oxygen and circulating. The patient’s heart is removed and replaced by the donor heart. After the new heart has been stitched into place, the heart-lung bypass machine is shut off and blood starts to pump through the new heart.

A heart transplant may be performed in patients who have heart failure. This condition may be caused by coronary artery disease, a disease affecting the heart muscle, or congenital heart disease. The surgery has some risks associated with it, including infection and bleeding.

After the surgery, the patient will need to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of their lives. Taking the medication exposes the patient to an increased risk of infection. For this reason, he or she must be on the lookout for signs of poor health and seek medical attention promptly.

Signing an organ donor card will help to increase the number of hearts available for transplant. If you decide to do so, be sure to share your decision with your family. Signing the card doesn’t mean that you will receive a lower standard of care if you are admitted to hospital, and there are very specific rules about when organs may be harvested for transplant purposes.