Font Size

Heart and Lung Transplant

Heart and Lung Transplant Facts

Patient Comments

A pioneering heart surgeon, Dr Christiaan Barnard, performed the first successful human-to-human heart transplant operation in 1967 in Cape Town, South Africa. Unfortunately, early operations resulted in problems such as infection and rejection, and heart recipients did not survive very long.

With advances in surgical technique and development of new drugs to suppress the immune system, a majority of transplant recipients currently survive more than 3 years.

  • A "bridge" device (assisted device) has been developed that lets certain people live longer while they wait for transplantation. A balloon pump inserted into the aorta and is attached to a battery generator device, that can help the heart to provide blood flow to the body. This “bridge” cannot be used for long and is used only in people who are critically ill and very close to getting a new heart.
  • A newer procedure involves implanting a mechanical pump into your body to help pump the blood. This pump, called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), can be used for months or even years. Some devices can be utilized indefinitely.
  • Total artificial hearts are now available and have been implanted in a few patients. Besides costs, complications are still present as a significant problem.

Successful lung transplantation has been performed since the early 1980s. The first surgeries involved transplanting both lungs and the heart together. Since then, operations have been developed to transplant both lungs, a single lung, and even partial lung (lobes).

Combined heart and lung transplants are rare.

  • With improved surgical techniques and powerful medicines to prevent rejection, life expectancy after transplantation has increased over the last 2 decades.
  • In the United States, people may wait 18 months or longer for a donor lung.

Because of such demand, systems have been developed to make sure that the sickest people are first to receive donor organs. Donors are carefully screened to make sure that only healthy lungs are transplanted. Because of the severe shortage, bilateral lung transplants are rare. Most patients receive a single lung.

When do you need a heart and lung transplant?

The most common indication for heart transplantation is severe end-stage heart failure, which means the heart cannot pump blood well enough to reach all tissues in the body. People who receive heart transplants get them only when their failing hearts do not respond to medicines or other surgical treatments. Several conditions lead to heart failure, including the following:

  • Ischemia, or lack of oxygenated blood to the heart (coronary heart disease), leading to heart attack and permanently damaged heart muscle
  • Heart valve disease, such as with damage from rheumatic fever
  • Infections of heart tissue, especially heart valves or heart muscle
  • Untreated, uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Heart muscle disease, secondary to multiple causes
  • Congenital heart defects (certain heart defects that an individual is born with)
  • Certain drugs

The most common reason people get lung transplants is for chronic obstructive lung diseases such as emphysema. Other people are born with conditions that cause their lungs to fail, such as the following:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Eisenmenger syndrome, which is due to inoperable congenital heart defects
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
  • Primary pulmonary hypertension - High pressure in the arteries (of unknown cause) that supply blood to the lungs
  • Alpha1 antitrypsin deficiency
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/24/2016
Medical Author:
Medical Editor:
Medical Editor:
Medical Editor:

Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Heart and Lung Transplant:

Heart and Lung Transplant -- Patient Experience

Did you receive a hear and lung transplant? Tell us about your experience.

Heart-Lung Transplant -- Rejection Prevention

What medications were you prescribed to prevent rejection of your heart-lung transplant?

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Heart-Lung Transplantation »

Cardiopulmonary transplantation (heart and lung transplantation) is the simultaneous surgical replacement of the heart and lungs in patients with end-stage cardiac and pulmonary disease.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

Medical Dictionary