Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctors: Should I get an LVAD?

Q. My doctor suggested I consider getting a left ventricular assist device [LVAD], and I am overwhelmed at the idea. I have severe heart failure and get short of breath with virtually every activity—sometimes just sitting in a chair. But the idea of having a device inside me forever scares me. Should I do it?

A. While some people get an LVAD to help their heart recover from injury, or while waiting for a heart transplant, some people with weakened hearts use an LVAD simply to improve their quality of life. Multiple research studies have shown that improvements in quality of life can be seen as soon as one to three months after LVAD implantation. In one study, the distance patients could walk increased from 135 feet to almost 1,000 feet.

There are some downsides. Sleep disruption is common, and is probably related to the position of the device as well as the noise some models make. And many people who receive an LVAD have emotional distress related to fear of device failure. Nevertheless, for someone like you with severe symptoms at rest despite optimal medical therapy, I do think this approach is definitely worth considering.

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