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What Is a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD)?


Saturday, March 7th, 2015

Heart failure sounds scary, right?

It can be, but heart failure doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped and there’s nothing you can do.

Heart failure happens when your heart doesn’t work as well as it should. It can be treated, and some treatments, like lifestyle changes and medicines, work for many people. But others with more severe heart failure might need a heart transplant or ventricular assist device (VAD).

How Do You Treat Heart Failure?

Heart failure can be mild, moderate, or severe. The goals of treatment for all kinds of heart failure usually include:

  • Keeping your heart failure from getting worse
  • Managing your symptoms
  • Treating what is causing your heart failure, like coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or other medical problems
  • Making your quality of life better

Heart failure can be treated with:

  • Changes to your lifestyle, like quitting smoking, getting regular exercise, and eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Medicines that help your heart work better
  • Devices like pacemakers or defibrillators, which are placed inside your body and help control your heart rate
  • Surgery to fix heart valves or vessels that may not work the right way

If these treatments do not work or your heart failure becomes severe, you may need:

  • A heart transplant, where you get a new heart
  • A VAD, either before or instead of a transplant

RELATED: Infographic: What You Need to Know About Heart Failure

What Is a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD)?

Also called an artificial heart, a VAD is a small mechanical device that gets placed into your chest or is worn outside of your body. It works by pulling blood out of your heart and pumping it out into your body, giving it the nutrients it needs.

There are different kinds of VADs. They are used for different reasons, including as:

  • A bridge to transplant. It can take a long time to get a new heart, and your doctor might recommend a VAD while you wait. After your transplant, your doctor removes the VAD.
  • A bridge to recovery. In some cases, like after a heart attack, cardiac surgery, or other cardiac event, your heart can heal itself with the help of a VAD. Once your heart is strong enough, the VAD is taken out.
  • Destination therapy. Not everyone is able to have a heart transplant, usually because of age or another medical condition. A VAD can be their “destination therapy” – meaning that instead of having a heart transplant, they will live with a VAD for the rest of their life.

Who Is a Candidate for an Artificial Heart?

Artificial hearts are used in very special situations, for people who:

  • Have symptoms that do not respond well to medical therapy and are continually unable to walk one block, or feel breathless walking from room to room
  • Have had more than one hospital admission for heart failure in the last six months
  • Are not able to take certain medicines, like ACE/ARB drugs or beta-blockers
  • Have lab results show consistently low or consistently high levels of certain substances

Other factors also influence whether or not you are a candidate, and it is always best to talk to your doctor about what is right for you.

Visit the UPMC Advanced Heart Failure Center online or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (1-855-876-2484) for more information.

Heart

Heart and Vascular Institute

As a recognized leader in cardiovascular care — with a rich history in clinical research and innovation — the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers a full spectrum of personalized cardiovascular services. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the United States, UPMC has made significant contributions to the advancement of cardiovascular medicine. Read More