Heart failure that has not responded to standard therapy, such as medication or surgery, is one indication for a heart transplant, according to MedlinePlus. Overall, 80 percent of patients who receive a transplanted heart are alive two years after the procedure, and 70 percent are alive after five years. The main barrier to a successful transplant is rejection of the donor heart. If doctors are able to control rejection, overall survival time increases to 10 years.
A heart transplant is a life-saving procedure in which a surgeon removes a damaged or diseased heart from a patient and replaces it with a healthy donor heart, explains MedlinePlus. Risks of transplant include blood clots, strokes, heart rhythm problems, coronary artery disease and heart attacks. Additionally, anti-rejection medicines that suppress the immune system leave the patient more susceptible to infections, cancer, kidney or liver problems, and thinning bones. The patient must take these medicines for the rest of his life.
Not every patient with advanced heart failure is a candidate for a heart transplant, advises MedlinePlus. Some patients are not eligible for the procedure due to advanced age, poor nutrition or pre-existing medical conditions, such as cancer; HIV; pulmonary hypertension; or kidney, liver or nerve disease. People who have dementia or insulin-dependent diabetes, who abuse drugs or alcohol, or who have had a stroke typically are excluded as well.
Finding a donor heart is also very difficult. As of 2012, about 5 million Americans were suffering from heart failure, yet only about 2,000 donor hearts became available each year, Popular Science reports.