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Ventricular assist devices (VADs)

A ventricular assist device (VAD) is an implantable mechanical pump that helps pump blood from the lower chambers of your heart (the ventricles) to the rest of your body. VADs are used in people who have weakened hearts or heart failure. Although VADs can be placed in the left, right or both ventricles of your heart, they are most frequently used in the left ventricle. When placed in the left ventricle they are called left ventricular assist devices (LVADs).

You may have a VAD implanted while you wait for a heart transplant or for your heart to become strong enough to effectively pump blood on its own. Your doctor may also recommend having a VAD implanted as a long-term treatment if you have heart failure and you're not a good candidate for a heart transplant.

The procedure to implant a VAD requires open-heart surgery and has serious risks. However, a VAD can be lifesaving if you have severe heart failure.

Why it's done Risks How you prepare What you can expect Results

VADs are mechanical devices that support the lower left heart chamber (left ventricular assist devices, or LVADs), the lower right heart chamber (right ventricular assist devices, or RVADs) or both lower heart chambers (biventricular assist devices, or BIVADs).

Your doctor may recommend you have a VAD implanted if:

  • You're waiting for a heart transplant. You may have a VAD implanted temporarily while you wait for a donor heart to become available. A VAD can keep blood pumping despite a diseased heart and will be removed when your new heart is implanted. When a VAD is implanted while you're waiting for a heart transplant, it's referred to as a "bridge to transplant."
  • Your heart's function can become normal again. If your heart failure is temporary, your doctor may recommend implanting a VAD until your heart is healthy enough to pump blood on its own again. It's also possible you'll have a VAD implanted for a short time if you're recovering from heart surgery. You may have a VAD implanted for only a few weeks or months. RVADs are often temporarily implanted after some heart surgeries. An RVAD can help keep blood flowing from the right ventricle to your lungs.
  • You're not a good candidate for a heart transplant. VADs are increasingly being used as a long-term treatment for people who have heart failure, but aren't good candidates for a heart transplant. A VAD can improve your quality of life. When a VAD is implanted as a permanent treatment for heart failure, it's referred to as destination therapy.

If VADs can't help your heart, another treatment option your doctor may consider is a total artificial heart (TAH). This device replaces the two ventricles of your heart. Because a total artificial heart is difficult to implant and can cause serious complications, it's only used in a small number of people.

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