Our hearts work really hard 24/7 to keep our bodies running. Whether we’re sleeping or awake, our hearts keep beating. In a perfect world, they would never have trouble. Unfortunately, our hearts do have issues and they can be very serious. According to a 2016 study by the American Heart Association, heart disease was the number-one killer worldwide, with one of every three deaths in the United States happening due to stroke, heart disease, or other cardiovascular diseases.
The numbers are pretty grim, but heart disease has led to important medical innovations. For instance, the heart transplant. The fact that we can change out a heart is pretty amazing. That being said, new hearts are pretty difficult to come by, and many people find themselves on long waiting lists. They need something that will help their hearts keep going until a replacement becomes available. Other times, people’s hearts get tired and need a recovery period. Luckily, there’s a temporary mechanical solution that helps the heart pump blood. It’s called a ventricular assist device (VAD).
What is Heart Failure?
The heart has four chambers, and the lower ones are called ventricles. The ventricle on the left drives the heart’s pumping motion, and when it has trouble, the entire body has trouble. Frankly, if either of the ventricles has trouble, heart failure can result. When we say “heart failure,” we’re saying that heart gets weak and loses its ability to pump blood in or out of itself. Heart failure usually moves slowly because the heart makes a valiant effort to deal with it by getting bigger and bigger. However, growing in size doesn’t change the fact that the muscle isn’t performing well. Pacemakers and medicines are generally used to give the heart a break at first, but when they stop working, the only solutions are mechanical pumps and heart replacements. New hearts are hard to come by, so many people end up with mechanical pumps or VADs.
The left ventricle usually fails first, which is why you’ll hear more about Left Ventricle Assist Devices, or LVADs. These mechanical pumps assist the ventricles by pumping blood and taking the load off the heart. A LVAD always consists of an external energy source and system controller as well as a pump that can be implanted or kept outside the body.
Why Do People Get VADs?
We’ve explained how VADs become necessary when you’re struggling with heart failure. However, there are three specific situations in which a VAD can really help out.
- Destination therapy. If you need a heart transplant but you’re too sick to survive it, a VAD can allow you to return to normal life by taking the load off of your heart.
- Bridge to transplantation. As the name suggests, the VAD can keep you alive over a short-term period as you wait for a transplant.
- Bridge to recovery. The heart is an incredibly resilient muscle, and sometimes, it just needs a chance to recover. A VAD takes over a lot of the blood-pumping work, which can allow the heart to regain some of its normal function. In some cases, the VAD can be removed after a period of time and eliminate the need for a heart transplant altogether.
Are Different Types of VADs Available?
Absolutely. Doctors choose different VADs based on the patient’s size and the heart assistance he or she needs. For instance, a child or woman may need a smaller VAD. Some VADs are powered by air, and they are better for short-term use. Electrically-powered VADs are better for long-term use because they are portable and make it much easier to live a normal life while waiting for a heart transplant.
When you’re living with a LVAD unit, life looks a bit different. You need to take special care of yourself and make sure your LVAD doesn’t cause you any issues. This is a lot easier with the help of an expert! We will answer some specific lifestyle questions in our next blog. However, it’s important for you to know what our home health aide team knows the ins and outs of life with LVADs, and we can make your experience safer and more pleasant in Texas. Contact us to learn more today!