Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD): What is it and Who Needs One?
With national heart transplant wait times ranging from months to years, many patients look to Mechanical Circulatory Support (MCS) as a bridge to transplantation or as destination therapies for patient not eligible for transplant for variety of reasons.
Mechanical Circulatory Support devices, also known as Ventricular Assist Devices (VADs), Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVADs), or “heart pumps,” support heart function and assist in blood flow to the body.
Essentially, when the heart is too weak to pump blood on its own, a LVAD circulates blood throughout the body.
How does an LVAD work?
The LVAD device is surgically implanted and attached to the heart, designed to assist the pumping function of the left ventricle, which is the main pumping chamber of the heart. It is important to note that an LVAD is not an artificial heart, which fully replaces the failing ventricles.
Rather, an LVAD works with the heart to pump more blood with less work, by continuously taking blood from the left ventricle and moving it to the aorta, which then delivers oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.
An essential component of the LVAD is the driveline. The driveline is a cable that extends from the pump through the skin, connecting to a controller and power source worn on the outside of the body. In order for the pump to work correctly, the driveline must be connected to the controller, and the controller must be connected to a power source.
Life with an LVAD
Due to increased blood flow, most patients feel a positive difference soon after surgery. Depending on one’s condition, a person may remain in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) from few days to two weeks.
With the exception of activities that require submerging the device in water or contact sports, most patients return to their daily activities. Many patients find they can resume activities they haven't been able to do for a long time.
The lifespan of LVADs vary, but some can support a patient for up to ten years or more.
Who should consider an LVAD?
Patients with advanced heart failure who have exhausted the limitations of non-surgical medical therapies are good candidates for an LVAD.
An LVAD is referred to as a “bridge to transplant” because they may be used to improve patients’ quality of life while they wait for a donor heart to become available. For those patients who are not eligible for a transplant, LVADs can be used as a permanent option, which is known as “Destination Therapy.”
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