Although there are different types of ventricular assist devices, the goal of each ventricular assist device (VAD) is the same: to pump blood from the lower chambers of a weakened or failing heart to the body. VADs are mechanical devices that ensure consistent blood flow for patients requiring assistance temporarily and sometimes permanently.
Types Of Ventricular Assist Devices
Ventricular assist devices are most commonly required to support blood flow from the left ventricle. This type of VAD is called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). The device designed for the right ventricle is called a right ventricular assist device (RVAD). A biventricular assist device (BiVAD) is used when both lower chambers of the heart need help keeping blood circulating.
Regardless of the specific type, all VADs have similar components: an inflow tube connected to the heart chamber, a pump (internal or external), an outflow tube that carries blood back to the aorta or pulmonary artery, and a driveline that connects to an external control system and battery supply.
It is only recently that these devices have become available for younger people, including babies, children and young adults. These smaller devices are called pediatric ventricular assist devices.
When Are Ventricular Assist Devices Used?
Ventricular assist devices are most commonly used in patients who:
- Have temporary heart failure or require temporary support for other reasons, such as following surgery.
- Are waiting for a heart transplant.
- Are ineligible for a heart transplant.
In patients dealing with a temporary condition, the treatment is called a “bridge to recovery.” For those waiting for a transplant, the use of a VAD is called a “bridge to transplant.” Destination therapy is used to describe the permanent use of a VAD to help prolong life and improve a patient’s quality of life.
Risks And Benefits Of VADs
Implanting a VAD is a surgical procedure. All surgeries carry risks from anesthesia or the operation. There is also the risk of postsurgical complications like infection, stroke, and other temporary and permanent conditions.
Complications that can occur from a VAD implantation include blood clots, bleeding and stroke. Postoperative and ongoing device use complications may include failure in another chamber of the heart (due to increased blood flow), arrhythmias, infection and device malfunction.
The benefits of ventricular assist devices can be life-changing for many patients. Increasing blood flow can reduce or eliminate symptoms, such as breathing difficulty, fatigue and edema. Many people report increased energy and strength, as well as being able to do more than they could before the device was implanted. The use of a VAD also improves the function of all internal organs, which raises overall patient health.
There are lifestyle modifications that may be required when living with a VAD, such as a heart-healthy lifestyle, taking medications, regular checkups and tests, and maintaining your device. Activity modifications include avoiding contact sports and any activity that puts the device at risk of getting wet (like swimming). Additionally, care must be taken to ensure that your device has an adequate power source at all times (battery or electricity).
The team at Advanced Cardiovascular Specialists consists of North Louisiana’s leading experts in cardiovascular care. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call our office at (318) 798-9400.