Get Pumped! Assist Devices Can Improve Heart Failure Symptoms

By , Cardiologist, Virtua Cardiology, Medical Director, Heart Failure Program, and 
Theresa Rowe, MSN, CRNP, Director, Heart Failure Program

If you have heart failure, your heart is weakened and unable to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. As a result, even the easiest activity can leave you exhausted.

Nowadays, a small mechanical pump, called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), is providing a boost to people living with heart failure.

An LVAD takes over the workload of the left ventricle, pumping blood to the vital organs, just like the normal heart would. Previously, these devices were very big and noisy, with many moving parts.

Because of their size and complexity, there was a greater likelihood that mechanical issues would arise. For that reason, these devices started out as a “bridge” for people waiting for a heart transplant.

Today, with the advent of smaller mechanical pumps with only one moving part that last for years, the pumps can be used as “destination” therapy, working alongside other treatments to improve people’s lives.

Small Size, Big Power
The LVAD is the size of a D battery. It is implanted inside your chest and is attached to the left ventricle and the aorta (the main artery that carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body). A thin cable connects the pump to a controller, which regulates pump flow, speed, and power. The LVAD is powered by long-lasting batteries or connection to an electrical outlet.

The pump’s motor turns 5,000 to 10,000 revolutions per minute, depending on the type of LVAD that is implanted. Because the LVAD provides a continuous flow of blood, it may be difficult to feel a pulse. Blood pressure is measured using a Doppler ultrasound.

The continuous blood flow allows people with an LVAD to breathe more easily, feel less fatigued, and have improved exercise tolerance. Many are able to return to work or resume most normal activities.

Specialized, Shared Care
LVADs are designed for patients who have end-stage (refractory) heart failure. These individuals no longer respond to traditional medical therapy and require more support than what medications can provide.

Patients with refractory heart failure may be eligible for a transplant. However, the relative cut-off for a heart transplant is 65, and many people we treat are 75 and older. They also may not want a transplant, or cannot undergo two significant heart surgeries. The LVAD can be their solution.

Ordinarily, patients are required to travel to the hospital where they received their LVAD for follow-up visits, as well as minor and elective procedures. Many are nervous about traffic, parking, and logistics surrounding these appointments.

Through our “shared care” program, we care for people implanted with LVADs at other hospitals. Our clinicians are specially trained on the mechanics of the device, how certain medications and procedures can affect its operation, and how to best maintain their overall health. These patients also can undergo less-invasive and same-day procedures here at their local hospital.

Heart failure treatment has greatly evolved. Through medications, attention to diet, exercise, and implantable devices like special internal defibrillators and the LVAD, we are better able to manage heart failure, reduce heart failure admissions to the hospital, and improve quality and quantity of life.

Your Heart, Our Focus
Our team of heart failure experts focus on improving your quality of life and reducing your risk of being admitted to the hospital. Learn more here about our heart failure program or call 888-847-8823 to make an appointment.

Updated May 13, 2021

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