Living with LVAD FAQ
Portable left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) are durable and last many years, allowing patients with end-stage heart failure to have an improved quality of life for years after the procedure. It will take time to adjust to living with your LVAD, but soon you will have a “new normal.”
You’ll need to make some adjustments to your daily activities because of the external components and the need to keep the battery charged. Fortunately, LVADs are becoming smaller and the batteries weigh less and last longer as technology continues to advance.
Here are some frequently asked questions about living with an LVAD device:
How long does it take to recover from surgery?
Patients usually remain in the hospital for two to three weeks after the LVAD device is implanted, then continue recovering at home for several weeks. Ultimately, people can resume almost all their normal activities, including work.
How will I be monitored after surgery?
Frequent follow-up appointments are necessary to prevent complications and ensure your well-being. You will have 24-hour access to an LVAD specialist from the moment you are discharged to give you highly experienced, personalized care. Every step of the way, we communicate closely with your physician and team.
How do I take care of the line coming out of my chest or abdomen?
The line coming out of either your abdomen or chest area is called a driveline and where it comes out is called an exit site. It’s very important that the exit site is kept clean and dry, and that the driveline moves as little as possible to lower the risk of infection.
Once an infection settles inside of this area, it is very hard to get rid of it. Your care team will teach you and your caregiver how to perform the dressing changes required to maintain your driveline and keep it clean and covered.
Can I shower or bathe?
You may shower with your LVAD once your incisions have healed. Unfortunately, baths are not allowed since the LVAD cannot be submerged.
Your care team will show you how to use a special shower bag to keep all the equipment dry. At some point soon, there may be a fully contained, implantable LVAD that will allow people to swim, bathe and shower with ease.
Can I exercise?
Yes, exercise is great for your heart and for the rest of your body. You will need to start slowly because you’ve been in the hospital for a long time and your muscles will be weaker.
Initially, after getting home, you will still feel quite tired, which is normal after such a big surgery. The good news is you will have less shortness of breath and more energy than before your LVAD surgery.
In general, the only activity restrictions are no swimming and no contact sports. Your physician can discuss exercise goals and guidelines with you. You will also need to increase your fluid intake because the LVAD is circulating your blood at a steady rate. This can be challenging initially since you had to limit fluids because of your heart-failure condition.
Will I need to still take my medications?
Yes, you’ll continue to take your heart-failure medications, which may include a diuretic, blood pressure medications and other medicines to support your heart function. The number and dosages may change, and different medications may be prescribed depending on your vital signs while on LVAD support.
You’ll also need to be on a blood thinner and most likely aspirin for as long as you have your LVAD. Blood thinners help prevent the risk of developing small clots in the device. It is also important to watching your diet and understanding how some food may impact your blood thinners.
Your care team will monitor your medications, your heart function, your vital signs and your LVAD parameters so that you are being optimally supported.
Is my blood pressure still important?
Yes, keeping control over your blood pressure ensures that your LVAD pump performs optimally. Your care team will closely monitor your blood pressure and make adjustments to your medication as needed.
You may need to have your blood pressure checked at your primary care physician’s office because it’s difficult to get an accurate reading at home with an LVAD.
Can I drive?
While your chest is healing and you are recovering, you will not be permitted to drive, although you can be a passenger. Your physician will let you know when it’s safe to drive again.
Can I travel?
Absolutely! Once your chest is healed, your vital signs have improved and the LVAD is working optimally without any issues, you may travel like anyone else. If you are flying, please notify security personnel that you have an LVAD and will need to carry your equipment with you onto the plane. If possible, carry a statement from your physician explaining your LVAD and equipment. The LVAD will set off airport security alarms.
Be sure to take enough charged batteries with you to get you to your destination. You have an LVAD now, so go enjoy your new life!