Heart Transplant Graft Failure occurs when a heart transplant recipient’s immune system identifies the transplanted organ (donor heart) as foreign material within the body and attempts to destroy it (rejection). Individuals who receive a heart transplant are monitored closely for signs of organ rejection.
A cardiologist will monitor the heart transplant recipient for signs of rejection. Rejection is one of the leading causes of death in the first year after the organ transplant. Rejection can occur within days of transplantation. Primary graft dysfunction is the most frequent cause of death in the first month after transplant. Chronic rejection occurs months to years after transplantation. When the person is experiencing chronic rejection, the rate of rejection is slow and progressive, with a gradual loss of heart function, eventually leading to heart failure and consideration for a re-transplant.
Failure of the donor heart can also occur if cardiac allograft vasculopathy (CAV) develops. CAV is a chronic (on-going) disease in which the walls of the coronary arteries in the new heart becomes thick, hard, and lose their elasticity. CAV can impair blood circulation in the new heart and cause serious damage. CAV is a leading cause of donor heart failure and death in the years following transplant surgery. CAV may contribute to heart attack, heart failure, dangerous changes in heart rhythm (arrhythmias) and sudden cardiac arrest.
Immunosuppressive drugs are prescribed to prevent organ rejection. If these drugs are not given, the transplanted heart would induce an immune response in the recipient’s body resulting in loss of heart function. Symptoms of transplant failure include heart failure with generalized edema (swelling), general discomfort or ill feeling, pain or swelling in the location of the organ and fever.