How the LVAD Support System Works
An LVAD features several key components, which work together to improve heart failure symptoms.
Ventricular assist devices, or VADs, are permanent heart pumps that support the severely failing heart. The pump works with your heart to deliver blood to your organs, improving breathing, energy and swelling, and increasing your chances of survival.
When this supports the left side of the heart, it’s called an LVAD. This is the most common type of VAD implant.
How LVAD support works
When the heart’s natural pumping function is severely weakened, it is not able to deliver blood to your organs and muscles. This is why people with heart failure can feel many symptoms, including shortness of breath, tiredness, weakness, swelling and bloating:
- An LVAD may be implanted to assist the heart by increasing the amount of blood delivered to the rest of your body.
- In this case, the device motor is surgically implanted into your chest area.
- The pump motor spins very fast, pulling blood out of the heart through a hollow metal tube that sits in the bottom of your heart.
- The pump delivers this blood into the aorta (the largest artery in the body), supplying blood to the rest of the body.
- Your heart continues to pump, but the LVAD often doubles the amount of blood flow that your other organs and tissues receive.
- By improving blood flow through LVAD support, symptoms of severe heart failure are improved, increasing your ability to walk longer distances, while reducing the risk of fatigue and depression.
The LVAD support system is composed of several key components both inside and outside your body, including:
- Pump: The mechanical LVAD pump is surgically placed inside your chest area and is not visible from the outside of the body. It is connected directly to your heart by a metal tube, which sits inside your heart. The spinning motion of the pump creates a suction that removes blood from your heart, delivering it to your aorta and out to the rest of your body.
- Driveline: The driveline “drives” the power to the pump. It is a thin tube of wire (visible outside the body) that connects the internal heart pump to the computer and power source located outside of your body. You will be responsible for keeping this area dry and clean. This part of the LVAD system is why people on LVAD support cannot swim or submerse in bathtubs.
- Controller: This is a small computer for your LVAD that’s the size of a large smartphone. It monitors pump function and tells your doctors how much blood flow your pump is delivering to your organs. It also tells you how many hours you have left on your battery. Each new generation of pump technology offers smaller, smarter and more refined controllers.
- Power sources: LVADs get power from batteries or AC wall power, and this power must always be provided to the pump. Batteries last 10-18 hours and various car chargers are available from your device manufacturer.
Taking care of your LVAD
Living with an LVAD 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 some of your daily activities, because you will need to have a constant power source and carry LVAD equipment.
- You are not responsible for turning the pump on or off, which is done by your care team.
- However, you will need to keep your equipment clean, dry and in safe working order.
- You or your caregivers must also keep the area where the LVAD exits the body clean and bandaged. Eventually, this will heal over like an earring hole in the ear, but the hole will remain and be approximately the width of a pencil.
This sounds like a lot and may be overwhelming, but in many cases, people on LVAD supports become experts at managing their LVAD equipment and driveline within a few months.
Learn more about LVADs
Your Henry Ford LVAD team is here to support you. We begin training family members prior to surgery, and will not send you home until we feel you can safely manage your LVAD support system. In addition, we are there 24/7 to answer any questions you have after being discharged from the hospital.
You can also read our patient stories to see how others have lived on LVAD support, and learn more about screening to determine if you’re eligible for an LVAD, the surgical process and important life changes you’ll need to make. If you would like to meet an LVAD patient, we can often arrange this as well.
The goal of the LVAD is an improved quality of life.
Despite the real risk for complications and the potential lifestyle challenges, most people thrive after LVAD support. Over time, most people have less shortness of breath and have more much more energy than prior to LVAD surgery.
Other types of heart support devices
For some people, LVAD support will not fully address severe heart failure. We offer other surgically implanted mechanical heart support devices for people with complex heart problems:
- Biventricular assist device support: Also known as “BIVAD” support, some people will need two mechanical pumps to support their heart. In this situation, you may be offered both a right ventricular assist device (RVAD) and an LVAD. Typically, this surgery is offered to people who are candidates for heart transplant. Henry Ford has one of the best survival rates with BIVAD support in the country.
- Total artificial heart support: The total artificial heart was invented in the 1970s. Because VAD devices have gotten smaller and more durable, most people today do not need total artificial heart support. However, people with very specific heart conditions may require this type of support until a heart transplant becomes available. In this case, you would typically stay in the hospital until transplant.
- Temporary mechanical circulatory support: Some people need temporary VAD support to prepare them for major open-heart surgery or to support the right side of the heart after LVAD support. In this setting, your doctors may recommend implantation of a temporary heart pump. These pumps are meant to support you for days to weeks while you’re hospitalized. These temporary pumps may be implanted either through a minimally invasive procedure (in our catheterization lab through blood vessels in your leg) or through surgery. We are one of the nation’s leaders in temporary heart support and are a leader in the National Cardiogenic Shock Initiative.