What is an LVAD? How does it work?
If you have reached a stage of advanced heart failure where your heart is no longer able to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs, your doctor may recommend LVAD (left ventricular assist device) implant surgery. Today’s LVADs are used in three different ways:
- When an LVAD is implanted in a patient waiting for a heart transplant, it’s called Bridge to Transplant. The patient’s LVAD may remain in place for several years until a heart donor becomes available for transplant.
- If a patient is not eligible for a heart transplant, an LVAD may be implanted as a permanent solution. This is called Destination Therapy and is becoming more and more common as LVAD technology—and the quality of life it offers—continues to improve.
- An LVAD that is implanted for temporary heart failure is called Bridge to Recovery. In rare circumstances, a heart may recover its strength after being given time to “rest” with the help of an LVAD. In the vast majority of cases, however, advanced heart failure is a permanent and irreversible condition.
If your doctor has recommended an LVAD for you, you may find it reassuring to know that there are thousands of people around the world with LVADs living active, productive lives. They are spending time with friends and family and doing the things they love.
The LVAD: An Overview
An LVAD is a surgically implanted mechanical pump that is attached to the heart. An LVAD is different from an artificial heart. An artificial heart replaces the failing heart completely whereas an LVAD works with the heart to help it pump more blood with less work. It does this by continuously taking blood from the left ventricle and moving it to the aorta, which then delivers oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.
The LVAD has both internal and external components. The actual pump sits on or next to your heart’s left ventricle with a tube attached that routes the blood to your aorta. A cable called a driveline extends from the pump, out through the skin, and connects the pump to a controller and power sources worn outside the body.
The driveline must be connected to the controller, and the controller must be connected to power at all times to keep the pump working properly. The pump is powered by batteries or electricity. Some LVADs have an adaptor that also allows them to run off the car battery. Each device has specific carrying cases to allow you to move about freely with your equipment.
There are several different LVAD models available today. Each has unique engineering characteristics and different external equipment, but they all serve the same function. Today’s LVADs are quite different from earlier models, which were larger, noisier and less durable, with bulkier power sources.
Some newer LVADs are currently undergoing approval in the U.S. Most have already been approved in Europe, where the approval process tends to take less time.
As LVAD technology continues to improve, so does the quality and quantity of life for LVAD patients: today’s LVAD patients. Today's LVAD patients have at least an 85% one-year survival rate* and can enjoy fulfilling lives and in many cases even return to work. By contrast, advanced heart failure with medical therapy alone is known to have a 25–50% one-year survival rate.
*Because LVAD technology is quite new, longer-term survival rates are not yet available.