Heart transplants are performed when other treatments for heart problems haven't worked, leading to heart failure. In adults, heart failure can be caused by:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • A weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Valvular heart disease
  • Congenital heart defect — a heart problem you're born with
  • Failure of a previous heart transplant

In children, heart failure is most often caused by either a congenital heart defect or a cardiomyopathy.

A heart transplant isn't the right treatment for everyone, however. Certain factors may mean you're not a good candidate for a heart transplant. While each case is considered individually by a transplant center, you could be prevented from having a heart transplant if you:

  • Are age 65 or older
  • Have another medical condition that could shorten your life, regardless of receiving a donor heart
  • Have serious blockages in the arteries in your arms or legs (peripheral artery disease)
  • Have a personal medical history of cancer
  • Are unwilling or unable to make lifestyle changes necessary to keep your donor heart healthy, such as not drinking alcohol or not smoking

For some people who can't have a heart transplant, another option may be a ventricular assist device (VAD). A ventricular assist device is a miniature pump implanted in your chest that helps pump blood through your body. VADs are commonly used as a temporary treatment for people waiting for a heart transplant, but are increasingly being used as a permanent treatment for heart failure.

Dec. 10, 2010