Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) for Heart Failure

Topic Overview

A ventricular assist device (VAD), also known as a heart pump, is a mechanical device that helps pump blood from the heart to the rest of your body. See an illustration of a VAD.

A VAD can be implanted in the chest or worn outside the body. If it is implanted, surgery is done to place it in the chest area. The pump part of the VAD is placed in a small space in your upper abdomen. Batteries that power the pump are usually worn on a belt or pouch outside your body. After the VAD has been implanted, your doctor will make another small incision in your side to connect the electrical wires that power the device.

A VAD can help pump blood from the left side, right side, or both sides of your heart, depending on your type of heart failure. If you are getting a VAD to assist the pumping of the left side of your heart (LVAD), your doctors will attach the tube flowing into the VAD to your left ventricle. Your doctor will then attach the other tube to your aorta. If you are getting a right-sided VAD (RVAD), the tubes will be attached into your right ventricle and pulmonary artery. LVADs are used much more commonly than RVADs. There is a third type of VAD, and its tubes get attached to both ventricles to help pump blood.

How does it work?

A VAD helps pump blood when the heart is not able to pump enough blood on its own. It removes blood from your heart and pumps it to the rest of your body. This way, most of the blood that your heart would normally pump is pumped by the VAD instead. Most VADs have an automatic mode that adjusts to different levels of activity. For example, if you begin to walk or jog, your VAD can increase how much blood it pumps.

Why is it used?

A VAD can be used as a temporary or long-term treatment for heart failure. A VAD may be used for only a short time if a person's heart gets strong again and is able to pump blood well enough by itself. VADs are typically used to help people who are waiting for a heart transplant. In rare cases, VADs can be used long-term along with other heart failure treatments like medicines.

What are the drawbacks?

People with VADs may have complications, such as excessive bleeding, infection, device malfunction, and blood clotting. However, these problems do not happen very often because of recent advances in VAD technology.

Credits

Author Robin Parks, MS
Editor Kathleen M. Ariss, MS
Editor Marianne Flagg
Associate Editor Terrina Vail
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
Last Updated August 25, 2008

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