How Do Left Ventricular Assist Devices (Also Called LVADs) Work For Heart Failure, And Who Is A Candidate?

Question: How do Left Ventricular Assist Devices (also called LVADs) work for heart failure, and who is a candidate?

Answer: The main pumping chamber of the heart is called the left ventricle. And in many patients with advanced heart failure, the left ventricle has become so weak that it can't sustain normal life anymore. And in such cases, a mechanical device can be implanted in the body that's called a Left Ventricular Assist Device or an LVAD.

And an LVAD is a pump that is implanted in the upper abdomen or lower chest. It has a tube that connects to the left ventricle, and it removes the blood from the left ventricle often by just sucking the blood out. And then it pumps the blood through another tube into the aorta, which is the main blood vessel in the body. And from the aorta, blood is able to get to all other organs in the body.

There are several different types of LVADs. Some of the older versions that are approved for all uses by the FDA are about the size of a CD-ROM or a DVD and implanted in the abdomen. There are newer LVADs that are much smaller -- the size of a C battery -- and these devices can be implanted in the chest. They aren't yet approved for all uses, but can be used in many patients in investigational protocols. These devices are very effective at essentially replacing the work of the weakened left ventricle and substituting for the heart muscle itself.