About 6,000 to 8,000 patients are put on a waiting list for heart transplants each year, but only about 2,500 hearts become available for transplant, according to the statement.
Each year, about 17 percent of patients on the waiting list die before a new heart is available. Only about 39 percent of the potential donor hearts are transplanted.
"Implementing these new recommendations could increase heart donations," says Jonathan G. Zaroff, M.D., who co-chaired the March 2001consensus conference at which the panel met.
Zaroff, an assistant professor of medicine and director of the coronary care unit at the University of California, San Francisco, says the disparity between supply and demand led the panel to re-examine the selection criteria "since we suspected that a number of viable donor hearts were not being used."
Age is often a factor in selecting hearts. Many centers automatically reject hearts if the donor is older than 55. But the panel says that some hearts from older donors could be transplanted, as long as the heart seems to have normal anatomy and function.
Many hearts also are rejected when ultrasound suggests thickening of the heart muscle, which makes the heart work less efficiently. But the panel recommends that hearts with only mild thickening be considered for transplantation.
One recommendation deals with requirements for angiography. Currently, hearts from male donors over age 45 and women over 50 undergo angiography to determine the condition of vessels. It is common to find evidence of narrowed or blocked
Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association