Recovering from a heart-lung transplant 

Following a heart-lung transplant, you'll probably need to stay in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU) for a few days.

This is because:

  • you'll need to be carefully monitored to make sure the organs are working
  • there's a risk your body may suddenly reject the new organs, which would require emergency treatment
  • you'll require assistance with breathing and feeding until you begin to recover

It's likely you'll be in some pain after the transplant, so pain relief will be given as required.

You'll usually be transferred to a general ward after a few days, where your health will be monitored as you recover. Most people are well enough to leave hospital after a few weeks.

The recovery process

Recovering fully from a transplant can be a long and frustrating process. You may be referred to a physiotherapist or another rehabilitation specialist, who will teach you exercises specifically designed to strengthen your new heart and lungs.

This is known as cardiopulmonary rehabilitation. It may be several months before you are well enough to gradually start to return to your normal daily activities.

During your recovery period, you will need frequent hospital visits and some admissions. You may need several check-ups a week during the first few weeks, but these appointments will become less frequent if you make good progress.

Even when you've made a full recovery, you will still need to have regular check-ups. Depending on your state of health, the timing of these appointments can range from once every three months to once a year.

Immunosuppressants

As the transplanted organs are foreign to your body, your immune system will try to attack them. This is known as rejection. This leads to injury of the transplanted organs, which – if not prevented – can cause organ failure. To prevent this, you will need to take immunosuppressant medication for the rest of your life.

Immunosuppressants are powerful medications that can have a range of different side effects, including:

While these side effects may be troublesome, you should never stop taking immunosuppressants or reduce the recommended dose. If you do, it could lead to your heart and lungs being rejected, which can be fatal.

Your transplant team may be able to provide you with additional treatments to help reduce any side effects that you experience while taking immunosuppressants.

Page last reviewed: 25/03/2015

Next review due: 25/03/2017