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What is an LVAD?

Many patients with advanced heart failure are not eligible for a heart transplant or do not receive a donor heart quickly enough. In fact, while transplants offer hope for approximately 2,000 advanced heart failure patients each year in the U.S., more than 250,000 advanced heart failure patients are left with no viable treatment option.1

A left ventricular assist device or "LVAD" (sometimes called a “VAD” or “heart pump”) provides an additional treatment option for some of these patients. An LVAD attaches to the heart and is designed to assist, or take over, the pumping function of the patient’s left ventricle – the main pumping chamber of the heart.

LVADs circulate blood throughout the body when the heart is too weak to pump blood adequately on its own, often resulting in reduced fatigue and improved organ function in people with advanced heart failure.

LVADs are often used in two scenarios: (1) improve a patient’s quality of life while awaiting a donor heart (“Bridge-to-Transplant”) or (2) as a permanent therapy for patients who are not eligible for heart transplantation (“Destination Therapy”).

The LVAD is attached to the left ventricle and aorta, the main artery that carries the oxygenated blood from the left ventricle to the entire body. People with an LVAD also wear part of the system outside of their bodies, including a small controller and two batteries, all of which are connected to the LVAD through wiring inserted during the LVAD surgery. The portable, wearable system is either worn under or on top of clothing.

Benefits of an LVAD

The AHA estimates there are 50,000 to 100,000 advanced heart failure patients in the U.S. today who could benefit from an LVAD, without which most would have poor prospects for survival and significantly limited lifestyles.2

LVADs have demonstrated the ability to help extend the lives of heart-failure patients and improve their quality of life, with many LVAD patients reporting that they can resume their normal activities after surgery. Still, many people who have experienced heart failure are unaware of LVADs as a treatment option, and report a lack of education and resources.3

Complications and adverse events

Complications of LVAD surgery are similar to the potential complications of any open heart surgery procedure. Patients will be asked to sign a surgical consent form prior to the operation, as well as a consent form for blood transfusions. A surgeon will discuss potential risks and benefits with the patient prior to the procedure.

Possible serious adverse events include the following:

  • Death
  • Bleeding, during surgery or after surgery
  • Cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Local infection
  • Respiratory failure
  • Device malfunction
  • Sepsis (serious infection)
  • Right heart failure
  • Driveline or pocket infection
  • Renal failure (inability of the kidneys to remove waste from the blood)
  • Stroke
  • Neurologic dysfunction (problems affecting the brain or nervous system)
  • Psychiatric episode
  • Thromboembolic event, peripheral (blood clots)
  • Hemolysis (breakdown of red blood cells)
  • Hepatic dysfunction (liver problems)
  • Device thrombosis (formation of a blood clot inside the device)
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)

1 Slaughter, M.S., Rogers, J.G., et al. Advanced Heart Failure Treated with Continuous-Flow Left Ventricular Assist Device. N Engl J Med. 2009 Dec 3; Vol 361:2241-2251

2 American Heart Association, HeartMate II: A Reliable Destination; Feb. 2010

3 St. Jude Medical, Patient Journey Research, December 2015.