By Dr Manan H. Desai , Cardiology
The heart is a pump which works constantly to pump blood to different parts of the body. The heart has 4 chambers, and the left ventricle which is the largest is responsible for pumping pure oxygenated blood to all parts of the body. This is done through a large blood vessel called aorta, which branches into a network of smaller and smaller vessels as it reaches the distant parts of the body.
Due to various reasons, the heart may not be able to function to its full capacity, and then the various organs do not get sufficient blood flow to function to their optimal levels. To overcome this issue, a left ventricular assist device may be used, which assists the left ventricle to perform its function of supplying oxygenated blood to the body.
When is it used? It is not a replacement for the heart, which is the case with a transplant. This acts as an assistant (as it is called) to the heart and allows it to pump blood to the body. In some people, it could be used in place of a transplant, as their health condition may not permit a transplant. In these patients, it is known as “destination therapy” and is becoming increasingly popular.
It is also used until a transplant can be obtained, when it is known as “Bridge to transplant.”
How does it work?
- It is an artificial pump-like device, which is surgically implanted just below the heart.
- One end of it is attached to the left ventricle and the other end to the aorta.
- Once the chamber which acts as the left ventricle is full, the sensors instruct the aorta to pump to the body.
- It has a power pack, which needs to be charged constantly and also a controller, which helps control the entire unit.
- They have a one-year survival rate and allow most people to return to normal life.
- When a heart is weakened, blood flow to the various organs is reduced and overall efficiency is reduced. This causes shortness of breath and lightheadedness. Having an LVAD helps overcome this problem.
- It reduces the strain on the heart, giving it some rest, and takes on some of the weakened heart’s load
- It helps a person exercise regularly by improving blood flow and also increases overall quality of life
With an LVAD, some of the potential risks include:
- Device failure
- Postoperative infection
- Blood clots
- Respiratory failure
- Heart failure
For people with a weak heart, the LVAD provides a fresh lease of life.