A heart transplant is carried out with you unconscious under general anaesthetic, and normally takes between four and six hours.

You'll be connected to a heart-lung bypass machine, which will take over the functions of the heart and lungs while the transplant is being carried out.

A thin, flexible tube called a catheter will also be inserted to drain your bladder during and after the operation.

During the procedure:

  • a cut (incision) is made down your chest over your breastbone and the bone is separated, allowing the surgeon to access your heart
  • your heart is removed, leaving behind a section of the right and left atria, the two upper chambers of the heart
  • the new heart is connected to the aorta, the main artery from the heart, the pulmonary artery, and the remaining part of the atria

You'll be taken off the bypass machine when your new heart starts beating.

Your breastbone will be closed with metal wires, and the tissues and skin will be closed with stitches.

After the operation

Once the transplant is complete, you'll be moved to an intensive care unit (ICU).

A machine called a ventilator will assist you with your breathing, and a tube will be inserted into a vein to provide you with fluid and nutrients. These will normally be removed after a few days.

You'll also be given pain relief as required.

Most people are well enough to move from the ICU and into a hospital ward within a few days.

You'll usually be able to leave hospital within two or three weeks, although you'll need to have regular follow-up appointments and take medication to help stop your body rejecting your new heart.

Read more about living with a heart transplant.

Page last reviewed: 25/05/2016

Next review due: 25/05/2018