It is currently estimated that 5.7 million Americans live with heart failure. Of these, less than 3000 will receive a heart transplant this year, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. With successful transplantation can come significant emotional and physical symptoms that are not always addressed. Although palliative care is an interdisciplinary subspecialty designed to alleviate multiple domains of suffering in serious illness, many mistakenly associate it solely with the end of life. Traditionally associated with cancer, research into the role of palliative care in other chronic illnesses and complex life-changing therapies such as solid organ transplantation remains scarce but is nonetheless developing. Here, we try to investigate a potential role for palliative care for heart transplant recipients. Early research thus far has demonstrated importance of early involvement of palliative care teams and the significant improvement of physical and emotional symptoms in the pre- and post-transplant period. Nevertheless, more research is warranted to determine the ideal timing of palliative care integration, the effects on health care resource utilization, and whether improving quality of life can affect morbidity and mortality. By understanding these critical elements and others we may be able to develop a model for the role of palliative care for heart transplant patients.
Keywords: Cardiac transplant; Heart transplant; LVAD; Palliative care.