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Ventricular assist device (VAD)

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on May 3, 2023.

Overview

A ventricular assist device (VAD) is a device that helps pump blood from the lower chambers of the heart to the rest of the body. It's a treatment for a weakened heart or heart failure. A VAD may be used to help the heart work while waiting for other treatments, such as a heart transplant. Sometimes a VAD is used to permanently help the heart pump blood.

Another name for a VAD is a durable mechanical circulatory support device.

A VAD is most frequently placed in the left lower heart chamber, called the left ventricle. When placed in the left ventricle, it's called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). This article focuses on LVADs.

Current LVADs provide a constant flow of blood from the heart to the body. They also are called continuous flow devices.

Getting an LVAD often requires open-heart surgery and has serious risks. However, an LVAD can be lifesaving if you have severe heart failure.

Left ventricular assist device (LVAD)

A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) is implanted in the chest. It helps pump blood from the lower left heart chamber, called the left ventricle, to the rest of the body. A controller unit and battery pack are worn outside the body and are connected to the LVAD through a small opening in the skin.

Why it's done

Your health care provider may recommend a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) if:

To decide if an LVAD is the right treatment for your condition, and to select which device is best for you, your heart doctor considers:

Risks

Possible risks and complications of a ventricular assist device (VAD) include:

How you prepare

If you're getting an LVAD, you'll need surgery to implant the device. Before surgery, your health care team will:

You can prepare for LVAD surgery by talking to your family about your upcoming hospital stay. Also talk about the type of help you'll need at home as you recover.

Food and medications

Bring a list of all the medicines you take with you to the hospital. Also note if you have any allergies to medicines. Your health care team reviews your medicines before surgery.

You'll likely need to stop eating or drinking for several hours before surgery. Your health care team gives you specific instructions.

Clothing and personal items

Bring these items with you to the hospital:

You'll likely be asked to avoid wearing:

What you can expect

Before the procedure

You may be admitted to the hospital a few days before getting an LVAD. While you're in the hospital, you may have other treatments for your weakened heart or heart failure.

During this time, tests are done to make sure an LVAD is still your best treatment option. Tests may include:

During the procedure

Getting an LVAD often requires open-heart surgery. The surgery usually takes three or more hours. You can expect the following:

If you're getting a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), the surgeon makes a cut down the center of the chest. The surgeon separates the chest bone to better view the heart and then places the device.

An LVAD has several parts.

After your LVAD is in place and working properly, you'll be taken off the heart-lung bypass machine so your LVAD can start pumping blood.

After the procedure

You stay in the hospital after LVAD surgery. How long you stay in the hospital depends on your health before the surgery and how quickly you recover.

At the hospital, your health care team watches you for complications. Tubes drain urine from your bladder. Tubes also drain fluid and blood from your heart and chest.

You usually receive:

You may be on a breathing machine, called a ventilator, for a few days.

As you recover in the hospital, your health care team helps you become more active and stronger. They'll help you sit up, get out of bed and walk. If you need more time to improve your strength, a short stay at a rehabilitation center may be recommended.

Before you leave the hospital, your health care team talks to you and your family about how to live with and properly care for an LVAD. Some of the things you'll learn include:

Your health care team tells you when you can safely return to daily life activities such as driving, exercising, going to work or being sexually active. You'll also get tips on how to safely travel with an LVAD.

Don't hesitate to talk to your health care team if you have any concerns about living with a ventricular assist device.

Results

After getting an LVAD, you have regular checkups to watch for complications and improve your health. A member of your health care team makes sure the LVAD is working as it should. You may have special tests to check your blood pressure.

You'll be prescribed a blood-thinning medicine to help prevent blood clots. You'll need regular blood tests to check the medicine's effects.

Cardiac rehabilitation

After getting an LVAD, your health care provider may recommend a personalized exercise and education program. The program is called cardiac rehabilitation. It teaches you ways to improve your heart health after heart surgery. The program often includes supervised exercise, heart-healthy diet tips and emotional support.

LVADs and heart transplants

If you have an LVAD to help your heart pump blood while you wait for a heart transplant, you'll remain in close contact with your health care team while you're on the waiting list. You'll likely be told not to travel far so you're close to the hospital in case a donor heart becomes available.

Coping and support

If you're feeling anxious or frustrated about living with an LVAD, consider talking to your health care provider or a counselor. Connecting with others in a support group may help lower stress and anxiety. A support group lets you share your thoughts and feelings with others who have similar experiences.

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