LVAD | Heart & Vascular | Loyola Medicine

Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)

Overview and Facts about Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)

An LVAD is a small pump that is surgically implanted inside your chest to help your weakened heart provide mechanical circulation of blood to your body.

Unlike a heart transplant, an LVAD does not replace your heart, but instead helps your weakened heart do its job. The LVAD will pull blood from the lower chamber of your heart (left ventricle) and push it to the aorta, which carries the blood from your heart to the rest of your body.

The LVAD improves your blood circulation and may relieve symptoms and allow you to resume normal activity.

A cable called the driveline connects the implanted pump to an external system controller; the controller is a small computer that runs the pump. The controller is connected to external batteries that power the pump.

The external parts of the portable device are held in a harness or shirt made specifically for LVAD users. Your doctor may recommend an LVAD if your heart failure has not responded to other treatment options, including medication and surgeries.

The LVAD provides an alternative treatment option for patients in two ways:

  • Bridge-to-transplant — Temporary implantation of the LVAD to extend your life if you are waiting for heart transplantation
  • Destination therapy — Permanent implantation of the LVAD to improve heart function if you are diagnosed with end-stage heart failure and are not eligible for heart transplantation

The purpose of the LVAD in these cases is to support the function of the heart, slow the progression and symptom development of heart failure, and improve the overall quality of life of someone unable to receive a transplant.

What to Expect during Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)

LVAD implantation is performed by a surgeon with expertise in cardiac surgery and heart failure. You will be sedated under general anesthesia for the entirety of the procedure, which lasts four to six hours.

Next, you will be placed on a heart-lung machine, which is a pump that circulates your blood throughout your body while your heart is stopped. The surgeon will open your chest and place the pump in the wall of your upper abdomen. Tubing is then connected to your heart from the pump and the driveline connecting the pump to the controller is passed through an incision in the abdominal wall.

Following several days in the intensive care unit, you will continue your recovery in the hospital for, on average, two to three weeks. The length of time you remain in the hospital, however, depends on the extent of your heart failure, your overall condition, and the progress of your recovery.

During this time, your cardiac care team will closely monitor the function of your heart in coordination with the LVAD pump. You will learn how to care for and operate the device.

What are the Side Effects of Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)?

Side effects are common following LVAD implantation surgery and will gradually begin to subside within four to six weeks postsurgery. These after-effects include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Incision site pain
  • Pain or discomfort in your chest, shoulders or back

What are the Risks of Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)?

Like other open-heart procedures, LVAD implantation carries the risk of complications. Risks include:

  • Bleeding or blood clots
  • Infection
  • Kidney damage
  • Malfunction of the LVAD device
  • Right heart failure
  • Stroke