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Totally artificial heart

  • Article
  • 2021-02-27

A total artificial heart (TAH) is a pump that is surgically installed to provide circulation and replace heart ventricles that are diseased or damaged. The ventricles pump blood from the heart to the lungs and other parts of the body. Machines outside the body control the implanted pumps and help blood flow to and from the heart.

A doctor may recommend a TAH if you have heart failure caused by ventricles no longer pumping blood well enough and you need long-term support. TAH surgery may be an alternative treatment for certain patients who cannot undergo a heart transplant.

As with any surgery, TAH surgery can lead to serious complications such as blood clots or infection. You may need to stay in the hospital to prevent or treat these complications. In some cases, people with a TAH can leave the hospital to wait for a heart transplant.

How does it work

The TAH replaces the lower chambers of the heart, called ventricles. Tubes connect the TAH to a source of power located outside the body. The TAH then pumps blood through the heart's main artery to the lungs and the rest of the body.

The TAH has four mechanical valves that act like the heart's own valves to regulate blood flow. These valves connect the TAH to the upper chambers of your heart called the atrium and to the great arteries, the pulmonary artery, and the aorta. Once plugged in, the TAH duplicates the functioning of a normal heart, provides mechanical circulatory support, and restores normal blood flow throughout the body. The TAH is powered and operated by a bedside console for hospital patients. After leaving the hospital, people with a TAH use a portable control device that fits in a shoulder bag or backpack and weighs about 14 pounds. It can be charged at home or in the car.

Who Can Benefit From It?

You may benefit from a TAH if you have heart failure caused by ventricles that no longer pump blood well enough and if other treatments have not worked. If you are waiting for a heart transplant, a TAH can help extend your life.

Talk to your doctor about whether you qualify for a TAH and whether the benefits of the device outweigh the risks of surgery and potential complications of living with a TAH.

Who is eligible for a TAH?

You may qualify for a TAH if you have heart failure and both ventricles are malfunctioning. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved the TAH device as a bridge to a transplant; TAHs help keep people with heart failure alive while they wait for a heart transplant. In addition, some patients have been given artificial hearts as part of clinical research. Researchers are working on smaller TAHs suitable for babies, children, women and smaller men waiting for a heart transplant, as well as devices that are alternative treatments for adults who are not eligible for a transplant.

Who is not eligible for a TAH?

A TAH should not be used if you have any of these features or conditions:

  • Are small. The device is too big to fit in the chests of children and some adults. Researchers are testing smaller TAHs in infants, children, women and smaller men.
  • May benefit from other treatments, including medications.
  • Heart failure affects only one side of your heart. In these cases, treatment with a ventricular aid may be more appropriate.
  • Can't use anti-caking medications. These drugs are needed as long as the TAH is present.

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