Improved survival in heart transplant patients living at high altitude

Curtis J. Wozniak, Bradley C. Baird, Josef Stehlik, Stavros G. Drakos, David A. Bull, Amit N. Patel, Craig H. Selzman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Objective: Higher altitudes are associated with chronic hypoxia and elevated pulmonary vascular resistance, both potentially detrimental to patients requiring heart transplantation. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether altitude negatively affects survival among patients undergoing heart transplantation. Methods: The United Network of Organ Sharing database for adult patients undergoing heart transplantation from 1990 to 2008 (n = 36,529) was analyzed, and each patient was assigned an altitude according to their home ZIP code. Survival was compared between patients at less than 2000 ft, 2000 or more to less than 4000 ft, and 4000 ft or more. Adjusted survival was calculated using Cox proportional hazards analysis with propensity-matched stratification. Results: Patients living at above 2000 ft had a 16% reduction in the risk of death at 1 year after transplant (P = .006) compared with those at lower altitudes. At 5 and 10 years, the risk reduction was 6% (P = .21) and 6% (P = .114), respectively. Among patients living above 4000 ft, the 1-, 5-, and 10-year reduction in the risk of death was 20% (P = .022), 12% (P = .057), and 15% (P = .0052) compared with those living below 2000 ft, respectively. Patients at high altitude had a lower incidence of diabetes, used tobacco less often, and accounted for the greatest proportion of status 2 heart transplants. Comparing the factors predicting survival at high and low altitudes, patients with a status 1A listing had improved outcomes at higher altitudes. Conclusions: Patients living above 2000 ft have improved survival after heart transplantation, an advantage even more pronounced at 4000 ft. Although the mechanism of protection remains unclear, the findings might reflect differences in pre-2006 organ allocation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)735-741.e1
JournalJournal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • LVAD
  • UNOS
  • United Network of Organ Sharing
  • left ventricular assist device

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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