New studies are showing that there are even more risks associated with a heart transplant than previously thought. While a heart transplant is needed often times to save your life, you also can develop life-threatening complications as a result of the transplant, and there is also a risk of developing new conditions that you did not have previously. Even with monitoring and specialized care after a heart transplant, here are some of the complications and risks that research is now showing could follow a heart transplant.
Failure of the Donated Heart– Failure of the donated heart could end up being a big complication after a heart transplant and it can potentially be life-threatening. The transplanted heart might fail for the exact reasons the original heart failed if there is another medical condition present. Sometimes a donor heart will fail because your body rejects the heart which could happen at any point during the heart transplant. Donor heart failure could also be caused by a blood vessel disease known as cardiac allograft vasculopathy. If your donated heart does fail then you can possibly be considered for a new transplanted heart.
Primary Graft Dysfunction– Primary graft dysfunction is also a serious and life-threatening complication from a heart transplant. Primary graft dysfunction occurs within the first 30 days after the heart transplant and it is the most common cause of death during that first month. This complication happens when the donor heart fails and there is no viable way it can function properly. Sometimes the donor heart might fail due to shock or trauma of the heart or it could be due to narrowing of blood vessels in the lungs of the recipient. You can get on medications if you have primary graft dysfunction such as nitric oxide which will help prevent the heart dysfunction.
Rejection- Rejection is one of the most common causes of death for a heart transplant patient during the first year of the donor heart transplant. Rejection is a serious medical complication from a heart transplant because there is nothing that can be done to prevent it from happening. The recipient’s immune system ends up seeing the donor heart as a foreign body and will attack the heart. Heart transplant rejection will occur most often within the first six months of surgery but can occur anywhere from a week to a year after the transplant. When the body thinks that the donor heart is a foreign body and it attacks it, usually this will end up having fatal consequences unless it is caught within minutes.
Cardiac Allograft Vasculopathy– After the first year of a heart transplant, another serious complication you could run into is cardiac allograft vasculopathy and this is a chronic medical condition. This occurs when the coronary artery walls in the donor heart becomes thick and hard which causes loss in elasticity. Cardiac allograft vasculopathy can cause serious damage to the arteries and it will also diminish blood flow and circulation in the new heart. This medical complication is chronic and usually will occur after the first year of a heart transplant. Cardiac allograft vasculopathy can lead to a heart attack, heart failure, cardiac arrest or a life-threatening arrhythmia. It is important to have an angiogram each year following a heart transplant which is a diagnostic tool used to detect cardiac allograft vasculopathy.
Severe Infection– Infection is also a complication you could get from a heart transplant and this is a complication for any type of invasive procedure. When you have a surgical operation, your immune system becomes weaker which means your body will be unable to fight the most common infections off such as a cold. These common infections can quickly turn into serious infections within the heart and lungs because it can spread throughout the bloodstream. Getting an infection after a heart transplant is a common occurrence but if not treated with proper medications it can lead to serious damage or even death.
Heart Medications- Medications used to help the body accept the new heart are also a complication you might encounter after a heart transplant. When you get a heart transplant you will be required to take medications to prevent the body from rejecting the new heart. These types of medications you are given are vital for the body to accept the new heart so it will not attack the heart which can cause rejection. Although these medications are needed, they do pose a serious complication after your heart transplant. A lot of the medications given to keep your body from rejecting the new heart can cause serious kidney damage. The kidney damage can be minor but after seven years of taking the medication, end-stage kidney disease could occur. The likelihood of the kidney damage becoming severe is relatively small overall but it does not mean it will not happen. There is no way around taking medications after a heart transplant so you should talk to your doctor about all potential risks associated with that type of medication.
High Blood Pressure- High blood pressure might also be another complication of a heart transplant and it can affect most people with a new heart. The high blood pressure is known to be a complication for over 95 percent of heart transplant patients within five years. It is not known why high blood pressure is such a common complication of a heart transplant but medications can treat the condition. Your doctor will probably monitor your blood pressure for years after the heart transplant and then place you on appropriate medications if it develops.
Malignancy- Cancer and other malignancies are also a common complication of a heart transplant due to the immune system. When you become sick or have a major operation, this will lower your immune system which will decrease the chances of your body fighting off infections. Malignancies are a common cause of death later on in life of a transplant patient and tumors can occur anywhere. The most common places a malignant tumor will occur though is on the skin and lips with older and fair-skinned men having a higher risk. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is also a complication and this is an example of when a malignant tumor occurs in the lymph system.
Although there are many different complications associated with a heart transplant, the benefits outweigh the risks for a lot of people in the situation, but new studies are showing that there is quite a bit of risk with this procedure. Engaging in a proper diet and exercise you can decrease your odds of getting some of the complications. Proper care after the heart transplant along with regular medical examinations will decrease your risk of a complication. You should always talk to your doctor about the risks of any medical procedure such as a heart transplant before you decide to have the operation. Follow all of the advice your doctor gives you and follow all other guidelines given to you so that you can decrease the odds of a complication. Some of these complications are minor and then turn severe due to lack of proper medical care so it is important to always see your doctor when you think something is wrong. As long as you follow the doctor’s order after a heart transplant and you do your part to keep yourself healthy you can live a normal and healthy life.