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What Is a Left Ventricular Assist Device?

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  • Written By: M. DePietro
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A left ventricular assist device is implanted into the chest to help the heart pump more efficiently. It is used if the ventricle is weakened due to conditions like congestive heart failure. The left ventricular assist device (VAD) may be used temporarily in anticipation a heart transplant can be performed. It may also be used in people who may not be candidates for a heart transplant.

Various conditions, including heart attacks, may cause the left ventricle to become weak. Congestive heart failure may also develop as a result of heart attacks. When congestive heart failure develops, the ventricles become weak and are unable to pump blood throughout the body effectively. If it becomes weak enough, the heart eventually cannot function and the condition is fatal.

In some cases, a heart transplant may be recommended. Although a transplant may be lifesaving, a match has to be found, which may take some time. While the patient is on the transplant list, a left ventricle assist device may buy the patient time until transplant. In other instances, the patient may not qualify for a heart transplant and a left ventricle assist device is the only option.

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The left ventricular assist device helps the patient’s heart pump blood more effectively. By assisting the patient’s heart, it decreases the work the ventricle has to do on its own. Blood flows from the left ventricle into the VAD’s pump. From the pump, the blood goes into the blood vessels and then throughout the body.

Left ventricle assist devises are manufactured in varying sizes. The VAD chosen will depend on the patient’s condition, his body size, and whether the device is only being used until a transplant can be performed. Regardless of the type of VAD, the device will consist of a pumping unit, which is surgically implanted in the chest or abdomen. The device also features a power source and control unit, which alarms if it malfunctions.

Prior to heart surgery to implant the device, patients will be educated on how to care for the left ventricular assist device. Patients will need to learn how to react to alarms and other safety precautions while at home and traveling. Education will also include how to shower with the VAD.

As with other types of heart surgery, there are risks with implantation of a left ventricular assist device. Infection and excess bleeding may occur. Blood clots may also develop that can travel to the lungs and cause life-threatening complications. The device can also fail, in which case it would need to be removed.

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