Left Ventricular Assist Device

What is a left ventricular assist device?

A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) is a heart pump that helps the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber, pump blood more effectively to other parts of the body. It may be used while a person is awaiting heart transplant or to give the heart a break after open-heart surgery.

How the LVAD works

The LVAD is implanted during open-heart surgery. One end of the pump connects to the left ventricle while the other connects to the aorta, the main artery of the body. A connecting tube runs from the pump out through a small opening in the skin to a control unit that is battery-charged. The LVAD battery must be charged overnight. In some types of LVAD, the external pieces are affixed to a lightweight harness that is worn like a “vest” over the shoulders.

By helping the heard do its job better, the LVAD can also help relieve symptoms of heart failure such as shortness of breath and constant tiredness and fatigue. It can also help relieve the heart of strain, allowing it to recover and gain normal function.

LVAD procedure and what to expect

First, your doctor will determine whether or not the LVAD is right for you. You may undergo different types of testing to determine the strength of your heart and overall health. Testing may include:

If it is determined that LVAD is the right treatment option for you, heart pump surgery will be scheduled. This may require you to be in the hospital for several days leading up to the surgery and several days after in the intensive care unit (ICU) before moving to a regular hospital room.

LVAD requires open-heart surgery and you will be under anesthesia (asleep and will not feel anything) for the procedure. The surgeon will need to make an incision (cut) down your chest bone and part your rib cage to access your heart. Your heart may need to be stopped and heart-lung bypass machine used to do the work of the heart during your operation. You will also be on a ventilator (breathing tube) which may be used after surgery as well to ensure proper breathing. The entire surgery takes approximately four to six hours.

Recovery from LVAD surgery and LVAD complications

You will be watched closely after surgery for any signs of infection or other problems. Your surgeon will determine when you can be moved from the ICU to a regular hospital room to begin your recovery. A team of nurses and cardiac specialists will ensure you are getting sufficient fluids and nutrition, and will also help you get moving again while you’re still in the hospital.

There are some risks with LVAD, including surgical complications, as well as postsurgical problems such as infection, bleeding, or malfunction of the mechanical pump. Be sure to get in touch with your doctor right away if you have any of these problems or concerns.


Heart and Vascular Care

The cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons at Main Line Health work together to improve the detection and prevention of heart disease with the latest treatment options.