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What Are the Risks of a Total Artificial Heart?

Getting a total artificial heart (TAH) involves some serious risks. These risks include blood clots, bleeding, infection, and device malfunctions. Because of these risks, only a small number of people currently have TAHs.

There's a small risk of dying during TAH surgery. There's also a small risk that your body may respond poorly to the medicine used to put you to sleep during the surgery. However, most patients survive and recover from TAH surgery.

If you're eligible for a TAH, you’ll work with your doctor to decide whether the benefits of the device outweigh the risks.

Researchers are working to improve TAHs and lessen the risks of using these devices.

Blood Clots

When your blood comes in contact with something that isn't a natural part of your body, such as a TAH, it tends to clot more than normal. Blood clots can disrupt blood flow and may block blood vessels leading to important organs in the body.

Blood clots can lead to severe complications or even death. For this reason, you need to take anticlotting medicine for as long as you have a TAH.

Bleeding

The surgery to implant a TAH is very complex. Bleeding can occur in your chest during and after the surgery.

Anticlotting medicine also raises your risk of bleeding because it thins your blood. Balancing the anticlotting medicine with the risk of bleeding can be hard. Make sure to take your medicine exactly as your doctor prescribes.

Infection

One of the two available TAHs, the CardioWest, attaches to a power source outside your body through holes in your abdomen. These holes increase the risk of bacteria getting in and causing an infection.

With permanent tubes running through your skin, the risk of infection is serious. You’ll need to take medicine to try to prevent infections.

Your health care team will watch you very closely if you have any signs of infection, such as a fever. You may need to check your temperature several times a day as part of your ongoing care.

With both types of TAH, you’re at risk for infection after surgery. Your doctor will prescribe medicine to reduce the risk.

Device Malfunctions

Because TAHs are so complex, they can malfunction (not work properly) in different ways. A TAH's:

  • Pumping action may not be exactly right
  • Power may fail
  • Parts may stop working well

This doesn't mean a TAH is bound to fail. In fact, TAHs that have been implanted in people in recent years have generally worked very well. However, problems with the device can occur.

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July 6, 2012