Long-term effects of heart transplantation: the gap between physical performance and emotional well-being

Scand J Rehabil Med. 1999 Dec;31(4):214-22. doi: 10.1080/003655099444380.


The purpose of our study was to assess physical and emotional factors in heart transplant patients. A prospective design was used to compare patients' physical symptoms, emotional complaints, and restrictions at admission to the waiting list, immediately after, and 1 and 5 years after heart transplantation. Thirty-three patients were included (30 male, 3 female) in the study. Their mean age at admission was 48 +/- 10.2 years. Of these, 23 suffered from cardiomyopathy, 8 from coronary heart disease, and 2 from valvular insufficiency. At admission, the patients suffered from symptoms of cardiac insufficiency, and were restricted in sports, gardening, hobbies, sexual life, job, food-intake, and mobility. More than three-fourths rated their physical and emotional status as moderate to poor. Emotionally, they suffered from irritability, restlessness, depression, psychic lability, lowered drive, lack of social contact, low self-esteem, and anxiety. At the end of rehabilitation (4-8 weeks after the operation), all physical and emotional complaints, as well as restrictions had significantly decreased (p < 0.0001 to p < 0.001), except for trembling, numbness of hands/feet, and food-intake. One year postoperatively, patients reported even fewer physical complaints (p < 0.01). Three-fourths rated their physical and emotional status good or excellent. Five years postoperatively--in contrast to physical status, restrictions, and physical complaints--the emotional complaints had increased significantly (p < 0.0001). Patients reported excellent physical performance up to 5 years postoperatively. On the other hand, the study revealed that their emotional well-being had significantly deteriorated from 1 to 5 years postoperatively. Attention should, therefore, not only be paid to the good physical health of the survivors, but also to the worsening of their emotional status.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Heart Transplantation / psychology*
  • Heart Transplantation / rehabilitation*
  • Heart Transplantation / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Fitness / psychology*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors