A total artificial heart (TAH) is a device that replaces the two lower chambers of the heart. These chambers are called ventricles (VEN-trih-kuls). You might benefit from a TAH if both of your ventricles don't work due to end-stage heart failure.
Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. "End stage" means the condition has become so severe that all treatments, except heart transplant, have failed. (A heart transplant is surgery to remove a person's diseased heart and replace it with a healthy heart from a deceased donor.)
You might need a TAH for one of two reasons:
The TAH is attached to your heart's upper chambers—the atria (AY-tree-uh). Between the TAH and the atria are mechanical valves that work like the heart's own valves. Valves control the flow of blood in the heart. (For more information, go to the Health Topics How the Heart Works article.)
Currently, the two types of TAHs are the CardioWest and the AbioCor. The main difference between these TAHs is that the CardioWest is connected to an outside power source and the AbioCor isn't.
The CardioWest has tubes that, through holes in the abdomen, run from inside the chest to an outside power source.
The AbioCor TAH is completely contained inside the chest. A battery powers this TAH. The battery is charged through the skin with a special magnetic charger.
Energy from the external charger reaches the internal battery through an energy transfer device called transcutaneous energy transmission, or TET.
An implanted TET device is connected to the implanted battery. An external TET coil is connected to the external charger. Also, an implanted controller monitors and controls the pumping speed of the heart.
A TAH usually extends life for months beyond what is expected with end-stage heart failure. If you're waiting for a heart transplant, a TAH can keep you alive while you wait for a donor heart. A TAH also can improve your quality of life. However, a TAH is a very complex device. It's challenging for surgeons to implant, and it can cause complications.
Currently, TAHs are used only in a small number of people. Researchers are working to make even better TAHs that will allow people to live longer and have fewer complications.
Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans.
November 20, 2013
Gary H. Gibbons
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