Harvard Heart Letter

Research we're watching: Many heart transplant recipients survive 20 years

Research we're watching

Many heart transplant recipients survive 20 years

For people with end-stage heart failure, a heart transplant is considered the "gold standard" treatment. A new study suggests that living for 15 to 20 years after a heart transplant is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Researchers tracked the outcomes of 133 men and women who received a heart transplant at University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland from 1985 to 1991. Just over half (74 people) lived at least 20 years after the surgery. Among these long-term survivors, the average age at the time of surgery was 43.6.

About one in five of the nonsurvivors died because of graft rejection, which means the recipient's immune system sees the new heart as a foreign body and attacks it. But continuing improvements in immune-suppressing medications may help people who receive transplants live longer, healthier lives, according to the study authors. Their study appeared in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

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