Navigate Up

Full Library - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Ventricular assist device

Ventricular assist devices (VAD) help your heart pump blood from one of the main pumping chambers of your heart (the left ventricle) to the rest of your body or other side of the heart. These pumps may be implanted in your body or connected to a pump outside your body.

Heart, section through the middle

A ventricular assist device has three parts:

  • A pump. The pump weighs 1 to 2 pounds. It is placed inside or outside of your belly.
  • An electronic controller. The controller is like a small computer that controls how the pump works.
  • Batteries. The batteries are carried outside your body. They are connected to the pump with a cable that goes into your belly

You will need general anesthesia when your VAD is implanted. This will make you unconscious and unable to feel pain during the procedure.

During surgery to implant the pump, the heart surgeon opens the middle of your chest with a surgical cut and then separates your breastbone. This allows the surgeon to reach your heart. Next, the surgeon will make space for the pump under your skin and tissue in the upper part of your belly wall. Then, the surgeon will place the pump in this space.

A tube will connect the pump to your heart. Another tube will connect the pump to your aorta or one of your other major arteries. Another tube will be passed through your skin to connect the pump to the controller and batteries.

The VAD will take blood from your left ventricle through the tube that leads to the pump. Then the device will pump the blood back out to one of your arteries and through your body.

Surgery usually lasts 4 to 6 hours.

Alternative Names

VAD; RVAD; LVAD; BVAD; Right ventricular assist device; Left ventricular assist device; Biventricular assist device; Heart pump; Left ventricular assist system; LVAS; Implantable ventricular assist device

Why the Procedure Is Performed

You may need a VAD if you have severe congestive heart failure that cannot be controlled with medicine, a special pacemaker, or other treatments. You may be on a waiting list for a heart transplant. Some patients who get a VAD are very ill and may already be on a heart-lung bypass machine.

Not every patient with severe heart failure is a good candidate for this procedure.

Click to download

Risks

Risks for this surgery are:

  • Blood clots in the legs that may travel to the lungs
  • Blood clots that form in the device
  • Breathing problems
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Allergic reactions to the anesthesia medicines used during surgery
  • Infections

Before the Procedure

Most people will already be in the hospital for treatment of their heart failure.

After the Procedure

Most people who are put on a VAD spend up to 5 days in the intensive care unit after surgery. You may stay in the hospital anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks after you have had the pump placed. During this time you will learn how to care for the pump.

Outlook

A VAD may help people who have congestive heart failure live longer. It can also help improve quality of life.

References

Mcmurray JJV, Pfeffer MA. Heart failure: management and prognosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 59.

Mehra MR, Griffith BP. Assisted circulation in the treatment of heart failure. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald'sHeart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders; 2011:chap 32.

Updated: 6/18/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com