Ventricular assist devices (VADs) help your heart pump blood from one of the main pumping chambers to the rest of your body or to the other side of the heart. These pumps may be implanted in your body or connected to a pump outside your body.
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
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 sleep and be pain-free during the procedure.
The heart surgeon opens the middle of your chest with a surgical cut and then separates your breastbone. This allows access to your heart.
Next, the surgeon will make space for the pump under your skin and tissue in the upper part of your belly wall.
The surgeon will then 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 ventricle (main pumping chamber of the heart) 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.
Why the Procedure Is Performed
You may need a VAD if you have severe heart failure that cannot be controlled with medicine, pacing devices, or other treatments. You may get this device while you are on a waiting list for a heart transplant. Some people who get a VAD are very ill and may already be on a heart-lung support machine.
Not everyone with severe heart failure is a good candidate for this procedure.
Risks for this surgery are:
Blood clots in the legs that may travel to the lungs
Allergic reactions to the anesthesia medicines used during surgery
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 (ICU) after surgery. You may stay in the hospital from 2 to 8 weeks after you have had the pump placed. During this time you will learn how to care for the pump.
A VAD may help people who have heart failure live longer. It can also help improve quality of life.
Peura JL, Colvin-Adams M, Francis GS, et al. AHA Scientific Statement: Recommendations for the Use of Mechanical Circulatory Support: Device Strategies and Patient Selection. Circulation. 2012;126:2648-2667.
Mehra MR, Griffith BP. Assisted circulation in the treatment of heart failure. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 32.
Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.