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Frequently Asked Questions About LVAD

What is an LVAD or MCS?

Illustration of LVAD carrying case

What is an LVAD or MCS?

Mechanical circulatory support (MCS) uses blood pumps called ventricular assist devices (VADs) to improve blood flow. They do not replace the heart, but they do help it pump blood to the vital organs of the body such as the kidney, brain and liver.

There are various types of heart pumps available, but the pumps that are FDA-approved for long-term use are commonly referred to as “left ventricular assist devices” (LVADs), because the pump is surgically implanted in the left ventricle of the heart.

Patients must undergo cardiothoracic surgery to implant the devices.

How are MCS and LVADs used to treat heart failure?

Heart failure is a complex condition in which the heart muscle can no longer pump sufficient blood and oxygen to vital organs of the body.

MCS helps improve the hemodynamic (blood flow) function and boost cardiac output.

For patients waiting for a heart transplant, an LVAD may help them survive until a donor heart is found. Not all advanced heart failure patients are candidates for a heart transplant due to other preexisting conditions or their age. These patients may benefit from long-term VAD support.

Is the LVAD an artificial heart?

No. It works with your heart, but it does not replace it.

What are the risks and possible complications associated with LVADs?

Complications of LVAD surgery are similar to the potential complications of any open heart surgery. Some of the possible complications related to the LVAD include bleeding, infection, device malfunction, right heart failure, kidney failure, stroke and pump clot or death. Your surgeon will discuss the benefits and potential risks in detail with you prior to the procedure.

How long does LVAD implant surgery take?

Surgery to implant an LVAD usually takes from four to six hours.

How soon can I expect to go home with the LVAD?

The average length of hospital stay for LVAD patients is two to three weeks, and most patients will go to rehabilitation one to two weeks after being discharged. Care is individualized to meet patient needs.

What about rehabilitation after LVAD surgery?

The majority of patients will go to inpatient cardiac rehabilitation after their LVAD is implanted, while a small percentage of patients are discharged directly home with home-based physical therapy and occupational therapy visits.

What potential problems can I anticipate in the first or second months after surgery?

Every medical procedure carries the risks of complications. Patients who have undergone LVAD surgery may be at risk for a variety of problems within the first few months, including gastrointestinal bleeding, infections or blood clots. Your LVAD team will educate you and your care partners on proper post-surgery care and how to recognize the first signs of complication so they can be treated as quickly as possible.

What kind of help will I need after my surgery?

You will need a care partner with you 24 hours a day for at least two to three weeks after LVAD implantation. Once you get stronger, the LVAD team will discuss increasing your independence. Each patient will receive a detailed, personalized post-surgery care plan.

Can I shower after receiving an LVAD?

Showering is dependent on when your LVAD driveline exit site is healed. Your LVAD coordinator will advise you when it is safe to shower.

What activities are prohibited after I’ve had LVAD surgery?

Driving is restricted until your breastbone (sternum) heals. We will discuss this with you on your follow-up visits. Totally restricted activities include swimming (equipment and driveline cannot be submerged in water), contact sports and arc welding. Women are not to become pregnant while on LVAD support because of device-related complications.

Will I be able to have sex after I have an LVAD?

Yes, however your breastbone will need to be completely healed. You must be able to walk up two flights of stairs without becoming overly tired before sexual relations are allowed. Please discuss your recovery status with your physician before engaging in sexual activity.

Will I be able to work after my surgery?

Yes, depending on the kind of work you do you should be able to return to work once you’ve recovered from surgery. Please discuss this with your LVAD team.

What happens if my LVAD malfunctions?

We provide you with education on what to do during these situations, as well as a phone number for access to the LVAD team 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the event of an emergency.

What can I expect in terms of quality of life and what improvements will I see after I get an LVAD?

Our goal is to get you back to living as normal a life as possible. While there are some restrictions, the majority of patients experience a significant increase in their quality of life after the LVAD is implanted.

How long does the LVAD last?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved LVADs for use for five years. However, lab tests suggest that it could last 15 years to 20 years because there is minimal to no wear on the pump itself.

How long do the LVAD batteries last?

According to the manufacturers, a set of fully charged batteries will last from 8 to 12 hours. The actual battery life depends on the amount of power required to run the pump.

Is it normal to not feel a pulse after getting the LVAD?

Yes. Your pump has what’s called continuous flow, so it works like a boat motor. Because of this, patients may or may not have a pulse, so it is normal if you don’t feel one.

How much do LVADs weigh?

The device itself weighs almost 1 pound, and the equipment that you wear daily weighs around 4 pounds combined.

Will I be on blood thinners?

Yes, patients are on both Coumadin and aspirin. There are rare exceptions to this. Your care team will discuss all of your medications with you and any side effects you may experience from blood thinners.