Maintaining Your Optimum Weight
To give your new heart the best advantage in restoring your health, keeping your weight at an optimum and steady level is very important. Excess weight increases the work your heart must do to pump your blood to all the cells of your body. Excess weight will also cause stress on your joints and lead to pain; it also stresses your bones, making them more prone to breaking.
The best way to control your weight is with proper diet and exercise. After transplantation, diet becomes a very important part of your life. The drugs you take to prevent rejection have several side effects which make a "heart healthy" diet a necessity. The nutritionist on the transplant team and your physician work with you to develop a healthy and controlled eating plan to help you maintain your optimum weight.
Caffeine, Alcohol and Tobacco
These commonly-used substances will need to be eliminated or severely restricted in your new healthy lifestyle.
Caffeine is a stimulant of the central nervous system and can over stimulate your new heart. Some are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others. It can cause insomnia, heartbeat irregularities and diarrhea. Even a moderate amount of caffeine can promote headaches, trembling and nervousness. Your doctor will advise you on your need to limit your use of caffeinated products like coffee, tea, chocolate and sodas.
Alcohol consumption should be eliminated or severely restricted after your transplant. Alcoholic beverages are high in calories, low in nutrients and can increase the level of triglycerides in your blood. Even more important is the fact that alcohol can impair your liver's function. Cyclosporine and other medications are broken down in the liver. So, for your medications to work properly and safeguard your new heart from rejection, it is essential that your liver be healthy and properly functioning.
Smoking tobacco is a high-risk activity. We strongly recommend that you do not smoke. Smoking lessens the ability of your red blood cells to carry oxygen; less oxygen reaches your tissues, decreasing your ability to heal. Smoking constricts your blood vessels, especially those in your legs, arms and heart. All of these problems are accentuated in individuals taking immunosuppressive medications.
After transplant surgery, an active, progressive daily exercise program is vital for your full recovery. It will rebuild your muscle strength. It will boost your mood and enhance your mental state.
As a heart transplant recipient, you will find that your sensory experience of exercise is now very different from before. Your new heart does not have the same nerve connections as your old. In most patients, the nerves severed during surgery do not grow back like other structures in your body. We refer to your new heart as a "denervated" heart. Because your heart is denervated, its responses to exercise are different. Your heart functions perfectly well despite these differences; they do not limit what you are able to do.
Another important difference is that you will no longer experience chest pain, or angina, when you exercise. The nerve connections that conducted this pain are gone. Any chest pain during exercise will probably be caused by the ongoing healing of chest after surgery. This lack of sensation is the rationale for receiving coronary angiograms each year following transplantation.
After receiving a new heart, we expect you to participate fully in all of life's activities. This means enjoying family activities, returning to work, leading a normal social life and contributing back to society.