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Women's Health: Smaller heart pump works for women

Device helps a failing heart keep beating while the patient awaits a transplant

Women with a failing heart may gain improved access to lifesaving technology thanks to a new, smaller artificial heart pump.

The implantable pump, called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), helps keep blood circulating while the patient waits for a heart transplant. The LVAD may also give the heart a chance to recover spontaneously in certain situations.

Study results comparing male and female patients who received an LVAD called the HeartMate II showed the device works equally well in either gender, and that its small size may increase the number of women who benefit from these devices. The HeartMate II is about the size of a D battery and is one-quarter the weight of an average LVAD.

“Earlier generations of mechanical circulatory support … were large devices relegating this technology to larger patients, including mostly men, and denied access to many women,” says study author Dr. Roberta Bogaev of the Texas Heart Institute in Houston.

The study involved 150 male and 44 female recipients of the HeartMate II. After six months, about three-quarters of both groups survived long enough for a heart transplant, recovered their normal heart function and had the LVAD removed, or were still being kept alive by the device. Both women and men were also able to improve their ability to do physical activities such as walking.

However, women were more likely than men to suffer a stroke during the study (16 per cent versus three per cent). Bogaev says that because the study was relatively small, more research will be needed to determine the significance of this finding.

“The HeartMate II left ventricular assist device provided effective mechanical circulatory support as a bridge to heart transplantation and improved the functional capacity and quality of life in both male and female patients,” she says. “The HeartMate II is an emerging option for previously underserved patients with a small body size, including many women. It shows encouraging results for an expanded population as we look into the future for extended support for patients who are not eligible for cardiac transplantation.”

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