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Understanding Ventricular Assist Devices: What Is a VAD?

If your heart is failing or you are recovering from a serious heart condition, you may be a good candidate for a ventricular assist device (VAD). Learn more about VADs and how they can help your heart.

For more information, call the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute at 1-855-876-2484.

What Is a Ventricular Assist Device?

A VAD is a mechanical device that helps pump blood from the lower chambers of the heart to the rest of the body. This artificial pump is implanted in the chest during surgery and connected to equipment outside the body. The VAD is most commonly used to support the heart’s left ventricle. However, it also can be used to support the right ventricle.


Who Needs a Ventricular Assist Device?

Your doctor may recommend a VAD if you have a failing heart or you are recovering from a serious heart condition such as a heart attack. In these cases, the device helps your body function properly until your heart fully recovers. If you are waiting for a heart transplant, a VAD may be used to help sustain you while you wait for a donor heart to become available. Your doctor may also suggest the device as a therapy if you are not eligible for a heart transplant.

How Does a Ventricular Assist Device Work?

A VAD consists of several parts, including a pump, an electronic controller, and batteries. The pump is placed inside your chest and connects to your heart.

If your doctor recommends a VAD, you will be placed under general anesthesia so a heart surgeon can implant the device in the bottom part of your heart. A tube will connect the VAD to a major artery called the aorta. Another tube, or driveline, will exit the abdomen to connect the pump to the controller and power sources.

Ventricular Assist Device Benefits and Risks

Receiving a VAD can improve your quality of life by helping to reduce fatigue and make it easier to breathe, while also boosting energy and strength. People with VADs frequently experience less depression and may live longer, according to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. For many people, a VAD means a better life.

However, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute notes that receiving a VAD does carry some risks, including:

  • Blood clots or bleeding from the surgery
  • Possible infection
  • VAD malfunction
  • Right-sided heart failure (if a left-sided device was implanted)

People with VADs must take medication to lower the risk of blood clots.

UPMC is a leader in the use of VADs. In 1985, UPMC surgeons implanted the nation’s second Jarvik artificial heart as a bridge to transplantation. Five years later, it became the first medical center to discharge a patient on a VAD. At present, the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has implanted nearly 1,200 VADs. For more information, call the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute at 1-855-876-2484.

For more information on whether a VAD is right for you, contact the UPMC Artificial Heart Program. The team of cardiologists, heart surgeons, nurses, and biomedical engineers can assess your individual situation and determine whether you are a good candidate for a VAD.