Heart Pump Lengthens Lives

Helps congestive heart failure patients live longer

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MONDAY, Aug. 16, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- An implanted heart pump offers longer survival and better quality of life for the most seriously ill congestive heart failure patients.

That's the claim of a new study in the Aug. 16 issue of Circulation.

The study included 68 patients who received a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), a mechanical pump that helps to maintain the pumping ability of the heart.

It also included 61 patients who received optimal medical treatment, including drugs that strengthened the heart's pumping ability, relaxed blood vessels to ease the heart's workload and helped eliminate excess fluid from the body.

All the patients studied had end-stage heart failure, in which the heart is so weak it's unable to pump enough blood and nutrients to the body's organs.

"This is the sickest group of heart failure patients to ever enter a clinical trial. Most had frequent and oppressive breathing difficulties and live a bed-bound or bed-to-chair existence," Dr. Lynne W. Stevenson, co-director of the cardiomyopathy and heart failure program at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a prepared statement.

A year after the start of the study, 49 percent of the patients who received a pump were alive, compared with 24 percent of those receiving optimal medical treatment. After two years, 28 percent of the pump patients were alive, compared with 11 percent of those receiving medical treatment.

Pump patients who survived also showed significant improvements in their quality of life. They were better able to walk around and their symptoms went from severe to moderate.

"The benefit of LVAD was most dramatic in the sickest people, those who will have the worst outcomes without the device. But the overall outcome is best for less-ill patients who have not yet tipped over to certain mortality," Stevenson said.

"Our challenge is to find the patients who are sick enough to expect a large benefit, but to identify them before that tipping point, so they are treated early enough to have an optimal outcome," she said.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about congestive heart failure.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Aug. 16, 2004

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