A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) helps your heart pump better when you have heart failure. Some people use this device while waiting for a heart transplant. An LVAD can give you an improved quality of life, but it’s not a cure. Still, more people are getting these devices than before because of improved survival rates with device use.
A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) is a mechanical pump that providers implant in people who have heart failure. The device helps the lower left chamber (left ventricle) of your heart pump blood out of the ventricle to your aorta and the rest of your body. Because it helps your left ventricle, it’s a left ventricular assist device.
This is an important job because your aorta sends oxygen-rich blood to your whole body. You can’t live without a steady supply of oxygen to your cells and tissues.
A left ventricular assist device works by pumping blood from your left ventricle to your aorta. Your aorta is the large artery that takes blood from your heart to the rest of your body.
A surgeon implants the left ventricular assist device’s pump unit at the bottom of your heart inside your chest. The device receives blood and sends it through a tube to your aorta.
Parts of a left ventricular assist device include:
There are a few different LVADs available. Your healthcare provider will recommend the one that’s best for you based on your needs and medical condition.
A left ventricular assist device is for people with end-stage heart failure. It’s a bridge to transplant for people waiting for a heart transplant. It can also help people who aren’t candidates for a heart transplant. Healthcare providers call that destination therapy.
While you wait for a heart transplant, your medical condition may continue to get worse. This may lead to hospital admission, increased symptoms and damage to other organs such as your kidneys, liver and lungs.
Bridge to transplant (BTT) helps you survive until you can receive a donor’s heart. The LVAD assists your heart and allows you to have a better quality of life and fewer symptoms. A surgeon removes the device at the time of your transplant.
The amount of time you receive support from an LVAD until heart transplantation varies and depends on your medical condition, blood type and body size.
Destination therapy (DT) is for people with heart failure who aren’t candidates for heart transplant surgery. Healthcare providers consider this only for people after they’ve tried everything else (like medications, lifestyle changes and heart procedures).
A left ventricular assist device supports your heart’s function and improves your quality of life for the rest of your life.
Your provider will determine if a left ventricular assist device is an appropriate treatment option for you, based on your medical condition, symptoms, body size and presence of other medical conditions.
Better survival odds with today’s LVAD devices have led to an increase in the number of people who receive the devices. Each year, more than 2,500 people with heart failure receive a left ventricular assist device in the United States.
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Healthcare providers will evaluate you to see if you’re a candidate for a left ventricular assist device. Your medical exam will include several tests:
A left ventricular assist device isn’t an appropriate treatment option for everyone with heart failure. You may not be a candidate for an LVAD if you have:
You’ll receive general anesthesia and will be asleep throughout your entire open-heart surgery.
A healthcare provider will:
The procedure to implant a left ventricular assist device takes four to six hours.
Before you leave the hospital, you’ll learn how to manage the device and troubleshoot potential emergencies. You’ll have to demonstrate your knowledge about the device before you go home. You’ll also need to show that you can take care of yourself.
In addition, you’ll receive guidelines about your daily life, including:
At home, you’ll need to have an accurate scale and a thermometer. Some people need to monitor their blood pressure at home. You should receive information about how to reach your healthcare team when necessary.
It’s very important to continue making healthy lifestyle changes before and after the LVAD implant procedure, such as:
If you need help making lifestyle changes, talk to your healthcare providers to assist with strategies or to refer you to other resources.
For people with end-stage heart failure, those who have LVAD devices tend to live longer than those who receive medical therapy alone.
By increasing blood flow to your body, a left ventricular assist device:
Although a left ventricular assist device improves quality of life for people with heart failure, it’s not a cure. But 80% of people who receive a left ventricular assist device today are alive one year later. Almost 50% are alive four years later.
Every surgery carries risk. Your provider will talk to you about the risks that are specific to this surgery and how they can help reduce those risks.
Some of the most common risks are:
When you meet with your provider, ask questions to make sure you understand the device’s potential risks and why they recommend the procedure.
Advance directives can let your healthcare team know your wishes concerning medical treatment if you become unable to communicate your wishes.
Everyone has a different recovery, so the amount of time you’ll stay in the hospital depends on your individual needs. A typical hospital stay after LVAD surgery is 14 to 21 days.
Your rate of recovery and your medical condition will determine when you can go home. You may need to stay in an intermediate care facility or rehabilitation center for a while until you’re strong enough to go home. If you think you’ll need care at home, talk to your healthcare team so they can help you arrange it.
You’ll have many follow-up visits after you get your LVAD. You’ll have weekly appointments for a few weeks, which will taper off to monthly visits. Going to these appointments allows your provider to make sure your LVAD is working as it should and that you’re doing well.
After the first year, you’ll have fewer visits. Your provider will let you know how often they need to see you. If you’re waiting for a heart transplant, you’ll need an appointment at least once every three months.
Contact your provider if you have left ventricular assist device complications, such as:
The amount of time you can receive support from a left ventricular assist device varies. It depends on the type of LVAD you have, whether it’s a bridge to transplant or destination therapy, and your overall health. The newest devices last several years. Some people have been living with an LVAD for more than five years.
No. A left ventricular assist device doesn’t replace your heart. The LVAD receives blood from your left ventricle and delivers it to your aorta. It pumps along with your heart, helping your left ventricle pump blood.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Deciding whether it’s the right time to get a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) — or get one at all — is a personal choice. Talk with your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of an LVAD. Getting answers to your questions can help you make an informed decision that makes sense for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/03/2023.
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