Heart failure is a major chronic condition in the United States, marked by increasing prevalence, hospitalizations, and deaths.
One type, called left-sided failure, is caused by a progressive failure of the left ventricle—the large, muscular chamber of the heart that pumps oxygen-rich blood out of the heart to the rest of the body. This form heart failure is often treated with medications and/or surgery. One surgical treatment, aheart transplant, can take years of waiting for a donor.
Patients now have another option called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). The LVAD is a device that takes over the work of the left ventricle, which may eliminate the need for a transplant. Here is some information on this technology.
A heart assist pump, can be permanently implanted in people who:
- Are not candidates for transplant
- Do not respond to standard treatment
- Have a low risk of surviving 1 year
An LVAD has two tubes attached to an electric pump. The pump is placed in the upper abdomen. One tube goes into the left ventricle and pulls blood from the ventricle into the pump. The pump then sends blood into the aorta (the large blood vessel leaving the heart), thereby doing the work the weakened heart can no longer do. The pump's other tube is directed through the wall of the abdomen to the outside of the body where it is attached to the pump's control system.
This device is fairly new, but the evidence for its benefits looks promising.
Some of the evidence for the benefits of LVAD are mixed, depending on how it is used. The outcome is more uncertain if it is used as a bridge to transplantation in patients rather than in patients who are not eligible for transplantation. The survival rate and quality of life is much better in patients who are not eligible for transplant.
Implanting the device requires major surgery on people who are already seriously ill. Some of the more severe complications may include bleeding that requires additional surgery, infection, stroke, and right ventricular failure. It is also possible to experience problems with the device.
All this does not mean however, that it is a bad option. Technology in medicine is always improving and it may be something that works for you. If you have severe heart failure, you may want to discuss this option with your doctor.
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Last reviewed December 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
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