To review left ventricular assist device physiology, initial postoperative management, common complications, trouble shooting and management of hypotension, and other common ICU problems.
Narrative review of relevant medical literature.
Left ventricular assist devices prolong the lives of patients with end-stage heart failure, and their use is increasing. Continuous-flow left ventricular assist devices have replaced first-generation pulsatile devices. These patients present unique management concerns. In the immediate postimplant period, care must be taken to support the unassisted right ventricle. Invasive monitors for blood pressure, pulmonary artery catheterization, and echocardiography are essential to optimize left ventricular assist device settings and cardiac performance. Anticoagulation is necessary to prevent devastating thrombotic and embolic complications, but bleeding is a major source of morbidity due to inherent bleeding diatheses and prescribed anticoagulants. Infection of the device can be life threatening, and all infections must be aggressively treated to avoid seeding the device. Patients are at risk of ventricular arrhythmias because of their underlying disease, as well as the placement and position of the inflow cannula. Aortic valve stenosis and insufficiency develop over time and can lead to thrombosis or heart failure. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation with chest compressions must be performed with care or not at all due to risk of dislodging the device.
Intensivists are increasingly likely to encounter patients requiring mechanical circulatory support with left ventricular assist devices at various points in the trajectory of their disease, from the immediate postimplant period to subsequent admissions for complications, and at end of life. A basic understanding of left ventricular assist device physiology is essential to the safe and effective care of these patients.