A ventricular assist device (VAD) is a mechanical pump that supports the heart when it’s too weak to pump blood on its own. This device is implanted in a person’s chest so it can help the heart by taking over some of its functions.
There are two types of VADs: left ventricular assist devices (RVADs) and right ventricular assist devices (RVADs). If you’re thinking about getting one, read on to learn more about these lifesaving devices and how to get one if you need one.
What Is Right Ventricular Assist Devices (RVADs)
An RVAD is a small pump that is implanted in the chest. The pump is connected to a tube that’s attached to the heart. The device helps the heart beat by pumping blood when it senses that your natural heartbeat has stopped or slowed down too much.
RVADs are a lifesaving treatment for failing hearts. They’re used to treat patients with end-stage heart failure, meaning that their hearts can no longer pump enough blood to meet their body’s needs. RVADs are only used when other treatments have failed or if there is a medical contraindication to other treatments such as LVADs.
When Is it Used?
A ventricular assist device can be used to treat several heart conditions, mainly VAD is used for three reasons, those are:
- During or after surgery, until your heart has recovered from surgery.
- As you wait for a heart transplant.
- If your age or other medical conditions prevent you from receiving a heart transplant.
It is heart failure when the left ventricle cannot pump enough blood to the rest of your body. When this happens, a person’s kidneys may not be able to filter urine properly or control blood pressure. This can lead to swelling, shortness of breath, and high potassium levels in your blood, which can cause muscle weakness and paralysis.
Cardiogenic shock occurs when an area of your heart muscle becomes too weak or stiff from damage from a heart attack or other conditions like arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat).
The weakened muscle results in less blood being pumped through your body, causing low blood pressure and decreasing oxygen supply throughout your body which leads to organ damage such as kidney failure due to hypoxia—lack of oxygen—and lactic acidosis—a buildup of lactic acid within cells because of lack of oxygen (lactate.
Among others, problems include decreased kidney function resulting in lower urine production leading to electrolyte imbalances such as low sodium levels, also called hyponatremia (low sodium).
How Do RVADs Work?
The RVAD is a device that helps the heart’s right ventricle to pump blood. It’s connected to your body by a tube called a cannula. The RVAD is powered by an electric motor, which turns like a propeller and pushes blood from your lungs back into your body.
A VAD consists of various components that make up the whole device. A small tube connects the heart to the pump, which may be worn outside the body or implanted in the abdomen or chest. An additional line carries blood from the pump back to the aorta, the body’s main artery.
The control system and battery pack are also worn outside the body. Through the side of your abdomen, a tube connects the external parts of the VAD to the internal parts.
In the past, VADs were too big for many people to fit into their chests, especially women and children, because of the device’s size. The good news is that VADs are now becoming an option for many people due to the introduction of smaller, more reliable devices.
How Can I Get One?
If you are a candidate for either an RVAD or heart transplant, it is important to know that getting one might mean not being eligible for the other. If your doctor has told you that you qualify for both types of treatment and are considering both options, discuss them with your cardiologist or cardiac surgeon.
Hospital care providers (cardiac surgery units). These devices can be implanted during open-heart surgery.
A center-based program at a hospital where teams of physicians, nurses, and other professionals specialize in heart failure treatment.
How long will RVADs Last
RVADs are durable and can last up to 10 years, though they will eventually need to be replaced. After the RVAD is removed, the heart will continue to function normally.
However, when it comes time for a transplant or another type of mechanical support device (such as a left ventricular assist device or LVAD), the patient may not be able to receive one because their veins have been used extensively for pumping blood through both an RVAD and their own heart.
Cautions While Using RVADs
You should check the device daily once you’re home to ensure it’s functioning properly. All you need to do is press a button to cue the device to run a self-test in just a few seconds. The dressing covering the site where the device exits your body must also be changed by your caregiver.
It takes 15 to 30 minutes to complete. The type of VAD used may require you to take a blood thinner. When the exit site has healed, you can take showers using a special covering that protects the device from getting wet.
It’s possible for your VAD to be damaged if you touch specific electronic equipment, so before you are discharged from the hospital, your healthcare team will instruct you on how to handle electronic equipment.
RVADs can be a lifesaving treatment for failing hearts. It has been successfully implemented daily in so many patients’ hearts. Day by day, new types of VADs are being invented.
They’re also an option for people with heart failure who have not responded to other treatments, including heart transplantation. If you think you might be a candidate for an RVAD, talk with your doctor about whether this therapy might work for you.