Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) Therapy FAQs

Our team of advanced heart failure specialists want to make sure you have all the information and support you need. They’re always ready to answer any questions you may have about left ventricular assist devices. Some questions come up more frequently than others, so we have compiled a list of answers to get you started.

One key concern many people have is how long you can live on an LVAD.

In the United States, approximately half of people with LVAD support who did not go on to transplant are alive at 4.5 years. The average (50%) survival rate at Henry Ford is well over 5 years. It is important to understand that these are averages, and some people may survive 10 years on an LVAD. Others may have complications or other medical issues that cause them to survive much shorter than average.

Other common LVAD questions include:

LVAD surgery

After surgery: Ongoing treatment

Daily life

Driving, traveling and working

Heart transplant

Has your doctor discussed heart transplant as an option for you? Henry Ford has remained a leader in heart transplants since performing Detroit’s first one in 1985.

Additional resources

Download our heart failure brochures, which offer additional information and tools to help you manage your condition:

Who will perform my LVAD surgery?

We have four cardiothoracic surgeons who are specially trained in implanting LVADs. You will meet your surgeon before surgery (in the clinic or hospital) and will have the opportunity to ask them questions.

How long does the surgery usually take?

The LVAD implantation surgery is usually 4-6 hours long. The surgery is considered to be “open heart surgery” and it could take longer depending on the complexity of your case.

How long will I be in the hospital after surgery?

Average hospital stay after LVAD surgery is 16-20 days.

How long is the recovery after surgery?

Recovery is different for all patients. You will work with physical and occupational therapists while in the hospital. When you are ready to be discharged, you will either go to an inpatient rehabilitation facility or home with home care depending how you have progressed. Once you have been discharged from home care, you will be enrolled in a three-month outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program to continue your recovery. This is a requirement for all LVAD patients.

Will I need to take any new medications?

Yes. Your medication list will change after surgery, so please follow the discharge medication list provided to you when you leave the hospital. Call your assigned LVAD coordinator if you have questions about the medications prescribed.

It is very important to take all medications as prescribed by your physician.

Some common medications that LVAD patients take are:

  • Warfarin (blood thinner)
  • Aspirin
  • Diuretics (for example: Bumex or Lasix to get rid of extra fluid)
  • Antihypertensive medications (for high blood pressure)
  • Pain medications

Is blood pressure important with my LVAD?

Yes, it is very important to have well-controlled blood pressure so that your LVAD functions best for you. High blood pressure can cause the device to deliver reduced blood flow, which can cause it to alarm. We will closely monitor your blood pressure and make changes to your medications as needed.

What should I tell my primary care doctors when I see them after surgery?

Many doctors have never seen a patient on LVAD therapy. It is helpful for them to know that you may have no radial (wrist) pulse, and that it is often difficult to measure blood pressure and oxygen saturation. Have your doctor contact your LVAD coordinator or physician with questions.

Do I need to follow a special diet?

Eat a heart-healthy diet. You may need high calorie/high protein drinks after surgery until your appetite improves. Do not drink alcohol. It can interfere with your medications and can also affect your ability to respond to alarms. You will also be on warfarin (blood thinner). Certain foods can increase or decrease the effect of this medication. It is important to let the anticoagulation clinic know of any changes in your diet and to follow their diet recommendations.

Image callout Play
Mr. Clay’s Story

After a heart attack, stents and more than 20 years of medication, Mr. Clay received a critical diagnosis and an LVAD implant, which gave him a new lease on life.

Will my fluid restriction change?

While on LVAD therapy, some patients are still encouraged to limit fluid intake to two liters a day. Other patients may need to drink a lot of fluid to avoid dehydration. Your medical team will discuss your fluid needs.

How do I take care of the equipment and the driveline coming out of my abdomen?

We will provide you with all the equipment you need to safely run your LVAD. We will also teach you how to care for the “driveline exit site.” This is the open area where the driveline (electrical cord attached to the LVAD pump) comes out of your abdomen. It must always be covered with a dressing and this dressing needs to be changed weekly once your wound heals. If you do not take good care of the site, it can cause a dangerous infection. If you get this wet with shower water, it has a high risk of infection.

How will the LVAD affect my daily routine?

LVAD therapy will come with changes and you will have to adjust to a “new normal.” It will take some time to get used to having a device that is always connected to you. You will also have to make adjustments to many of your daily activities, because you will now need a constant power source and will have to carry the LVAD equipment. You will also have to be very careful to protect your driveline exit site from getting tugged or soiled, which can lead to infection.

The goal of the LVAD is an improved quality of life. Over time and as you recover from surgery, you will notice you are less short of breath and have more energy.

Will I be able to shower or take a bath?

If you submerge yourself in water, you could stop your pump and this can be fatal. Your driveline is your lifeline, and infections are very serious and often lead to the need for repeat LVAD surgery, which carries a high risk of death.

This means no bathtubs, hot tubs and swimming while you’re undergoing LVAD therapy. While many programs allow showering, we do not recommend taking a traditional shower. Even chlorinated water has bacteria in it. Some patients will take a modified shower, using a handheld shower spray, avoiding any water exposure to the chest and abdominal areas. That is safe with proper education and good technique, including wrapping of the driveline and equipment protection.

Saunas are also discouraged.

How about intimacy?

Intimacy is important for everyone and just because you have an LVAD, it doesn’t mean you can’t continue to enjoy intimacy with your partner. We recommend you wait 6-8 weeks after surgery before having sex. Talk to your physician if you want to resume sexual activity. You will have to figure out how to comfortably manage your equipment and avoid anything that may pull on your driveline exit site.

If you are taking any drugs to improve your sexual performance, you will need to discuss resuming these medications with your physician. Some of these medications can affect your heart and it may not be safe for you take them.

Can I get pregnant?

You should work to prevent pregnancy while undergoing LVAD therapy, because there is no safe way to manage your blood thinner medications when pregnant. Please discuss appropriate birth control options with your physician.

Can I exercise or engage in other recreational activities?

Yes. We encourage all our patients to exercise and be as active as tolerated. You will first work with physical and occupational therapists in the hospital and then at home with home care. You will then be enrolled in an outpatient cardiac rehab program to build strength.

Avoid exercising in very hot and humid or cold weather. Exercising inside or in a more comfortable temperature is recommended for your safety.

Many patients return to other activities they enjoyed prior to LVAD, such as singing, playing an instrument, biking, golfing and hunting. However, you should avoid all contact sports such as basketball, hockey and football.

Remember that you just had a big surgery and you will still feel quite tired after getting home. This is normal. You will build your strength and feel stronger with time.

What about driving or sitting in the front seat of a vehicle?

You can be a passenger in a car. However, you will need to wait at least 90 days after surgery before you can sit in the front seat of the car due to the risk of airbag injury. Discuss this with your physician before you decide to sit in the passenger seat.

Whether you wish to drive a personal car or truck is up to you and your insurance provider. If you have completed rehab, are off narcotic medications, and have had no device alarms or impairments to memory, you may be able to drive a personal vehicle after three months. However, the laws of the state you live in, not your doctor, decide whether or not you have the right to drive.

The State of Michigan does not have clear laws regarding driving while undergoing LVAD therapy. State law prohibits operating a motor vehicle if you have an episode that “contributes to loss of consciousness, blackout, seizure, a fainting spell, syncope, or any other impairment of the level of consciousness” or an experience that impacts driving judgment. So if you pass out or have a dangerous heart rhythm abnormality, your doctor may be required to advise you to not operate a vehicle for at least six months.

Can I operate a commercial vehicle or fly a plane?

It is unlikely that you will be able to operate a commercial vehicle or plane while undergoing LVAD therapy.

Can I travel?

Many people travel while on LVAD support. In general, we advise waiting six months before you make your first trip that is more than 1-2 hours from home. We advise waiting one year for distant and/or international travel or cruises.

If you want to travel, please call your assigned LVAD coordinator or talk to your physician to discuss where you are going so we can identify if LVAD centers are nearby should emergencies arise. Prior to traveling, your LVAD coordinator will also need to provide you with tips on how to travel with an LVAD, including that of airport security. We will also give you emergency contact information for an LVAD-trained hospital that is close to where you are traveling.

Can I work?

You may be able to go back to work, but it will depend on the type of activities you perform. In some cases, you may be required to modify what you can and cannot do at your job. Talk to your physician about the possibility of returning to work, and they will clear you for work if and when you are ready.

Consult with a heart failure specialist
Call (313) 916-2966 or complete our online form.

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