General health care
Annual physical exams
Get a complete physical exam by your regular doctor once a year. This exam is important so your doctor can check your overall health and find any developing problems.
Your regular transplant clinic checkups focus on transplant-related problems. They should not replace a complete physical exam.
Brush and floss your teeth every day. If you have dentures, follow a routine cleaning practice.
See your dentist every six months for checkups and cleanings. Gum disease and mouth infections can turn into more serious infections.
Before you go to the dentist — even for a routine checkup — you need to take an antibiotic (medicine) to prevent any bacteria (germs) from turning into an infection.
Your dentist or transplant coordinator can prescribe an antibiotic. If it is the dentist, please check with the transplant office to see if it is compatible with your immunosuppressive medicines.
Schedule an exam with your ophthalmologist (eye doctor) within the first year after transplant. Have regular eye exams every year after that.
Immunosuppressive medicines may cause problems for your eyes:
- cataracts (cloudy lenses)
- certain infections that can cause serious changes in the retina.
Tell your eye doctor the names of the medicines you are taking.
The immunosuppressive medicines put you at a greater risk for developing cancer. For this reason, you should have regular preventive cancer screening:
Men and women: every six months.
Prostate and testicular cancer
Men: every year.
Colon and rectal cancer
Men and women: every year with a colonoscopy every five years (starting at age 50).
Cervical cancer (Pap smear and pelvic exam)
- Women: every year starting at the age of 18 or when becoming sexually active.
- Women who have had hysterectomies: every year.
Breast cancer (mammogram)
Women: mammogram every year starting at age 40.
If you have a personal or family history of cancer, you may need to have routine screening more often. Talk with your doctor about what's right for you.
Source: Journal of Heart & Lung Transplant
There are vaccines available to protect you from common diseases and illnesses. Call the transplant office before you receive any vaccination. The recommended schedule for the following vaccines:
Influenza (TIV or LAIV)
- Consider every year to age 49.
- Recommended every year age 50 and older.
Tetanus booster (Td)
- Booster every 10 years.
- Replace one routine Td booster with Tdap regardless of when the last Td was given.
- For adults age 65 years and older.
- One-time revaccination after 5 years if you are at a high risk or if you are older than 65 and received a first dose before age 65.
Source: Allina Health
After your transplant you should not receive any "live vaccine" such as chickenpox and the oral polio vaccine. These "live vaccines" may lead to a serious infection in people who take immunosuppressive medicines.
If you become exposed to any disease that can be spread, such as chickenpox, measles or mumps, call your transplant coordinator.
If you have a family member who receives a "live vaccine," it is possible for you to be exposed to an infection through close contact with that person for up to six weeks after the shot.
Call the transplant office for directions on how to protect yourself.
Travel in the United States is safe. You may travel to the following areas as long as you avoid side trips in areas that are not located near major cities:
- Mexico (Do not drink tap water.)
Important: Do not eat raw fish anywhere. Peel all fruit before you eat it.
If you are planning to travel anywhere outside the United States, call the Abbott Northwestern Hospital International Travel Clinic at 612-863-1939 as soon as you know your travel plans.
The infectious disease specialist will talk with you about shots you may need and how to avoid infection. Check with your insurance provider to see if your Travel Clinic visit is covered.
Acne and dry skin are the two most common skin problems in people who have heart transplants. They are both side effects of prednisone. Both conditions should start to clear as your dose is reduced.
Acne is also caused by oil-based cyclosporine. It often occurs on the face, back, chest or shoulders.
To treat acne:
- You may wash the areas of acne with an antibacterial soap.
- You may use any benzoyl peroxide solution. (Oxy-10® is one example.)
- For severe acne, see a dermatologist.
To prevent infection:
- Do not pick or touch the acne or pimples.
- Call your regular doctor if you have any areas that look like they may be infected.
- The acne should clear as your prednisone dose is decreased.
Dry, thin, fragile skin can also be a problem. Use gentle soaps for bathing and lotions that do not contain alcohol.
Some of the medicines you are taking may affect your hair. Some medicines may cause hair loss. Switch to a gentle soap to help slow hair loss.
Other medicines can cause hair to grow fast. This may cause unwanted hair on your face, chest, back or arms. To treat unwanted hair, you may try the following.
- Try a 50 percent peroxide solution to bleach your hair. This will make it less noticeable. Avoid the area near your eyes.
- Try a mild depilatory cream. Use caution since many of these ointments can cause injury to your skin.
- Try laser hair removal. Check with your transplant coordinator first if you choose this option.
There are increased cases of skin cancer in all transplant patients. For that reason, it is important for you to limit the amount of sun exposure you receive. If found and treated early, most skin cancers can be cured.
Take the following steps to stay ahead of skin cancer.
After your transplant, see a dermatologist (skin doctor) within six months
If you don't have a dermatologist, talk with your regular doctor or transplant coordinator. Find a board-certified specialist near you, go to allinahealth.org/doctors and select dermatology under Specialty.
You should see a dermatologist every six months. The sooner you have a full skin exam the better.
Be alert to any skin changes. Finding changes early makes a difference.
- Look at your skin regularly.
- Please note any change in existing or new skin growths.
- Changes could include sores or darkening of pigmentation (skin coloring).
- Call your regular doctor if you notice any changes or if you have any concerns.
Apply sunscreen often!
- Wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 all year.
- Apply it to your ears, lips and hands.
- Apply about 30 minutes before going out during the day and re-apply every two hours. Make sure you re-apply if you are sweating from activities or swimming.
Protect yourself from the sun
- Never sunbathe. Find shady areas.
- Wear hats with brims.
- Wear clothing with close-weave fabric. Wear lightweight long-sleeved shirts and long pants, if possible.
- Never use tanning beds.
- Avoid sun exposure during the sun's peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Avoid light-reflecting surfaces, including snow.
There are two major types of ultraviolet rays that radiate from the sun: UVA and UVB. The UVA rays, which will pass through glass — even car windows — are not affected by PABA-type sunblocks.
Use "broad spectrum" or "complete blocker" sunscreens with an SPF of at least 30. These protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
Having alcohol on rare occasions is OK, but it is best to not drink at all. Try to not have more than one glass at a time, not more than once a week. If you have a history of alcohol dependence, you cannot drink.
Alcohol may affect cyclosporine and Prograf absorption, which could cause side effects or rejection. Cyclosporine or Prograf doses cannot be increased to cover up binges.
It is important to talk with your transplant coordinator and doctor about your alcohol use.
Do not smoke after surgery. Smoking damages your blood vessels, including the vessels that supply blood to your new heart.
Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, more than 60 of which can cause cancer. Smoking even one cigarette every day results in:
- an increased heart rate, blood pressure and narrowing of major blood vessels, causing your heart to work harder
- a decreased oxygen supply in your bloodstream, resulting in shortness of breath and lack of oxygen
- faster blood clotting, resulting in an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Talk with your doctor about your best treatment options. You can also check with your insurance provider about quitting programs that may be available to you.
For information about smoking cessation programs, call Allina Health Class Registration at 612-262-3333 or 1-800-877-7878.