Left Ventricular Assist Device Management in the Emergency Department

Paul Trinquero, MD; Andrew Pirotte, MD; Lauren P. Gallagher, MD, MA; Kimberly M. Iwaki, MD; Christopher Beach, MD; Jane E. Wilcox, MD


Western J Emerg Med. 2018;19(5):834-841. 

In This Article

Relevant Studies and Workup

Initial workup in a VAD patient centers on the chief complaint similarly to non-VAD patients with significant cardiac disease. Electrocardiogram (ECG) findings in VAD patients may be nonspecific, but in addition to stigmata of end-stage heart failure they tend to include low limb lead voltage, ubiquitous electrical artifact, and QRS splintering.[8] Although the VAD performs the primary left ventricular pumping function, the native heart still contributes to cardiac output. The right ventricle must provide adequate preload to the left ventricle and subsequently fill the LVAD. Accordingly, although some VAD patients may have a higher tolerance for ventricular arrhythmias, if the patient becomes unstable or symptomatic, termination of the ventricular arrhythmia is paramount. In most cases, this will require electrical cardioversion, although intravenous (IV) doses of antiarrhythmic medications such as amiodarone can be given simultaneously and may reduce recurrence.[9,10] One important etiology of ventricular arrhythmia in a VAD patient is a suction event, which occurs when the inflow cannula contacts and stimulates the ventricular septum.[11,12] This occurs as the result of decreased left ventricular (LV) filling (potentially from hypovolemia), myocardial recovery, or excessive pump speed. Treatment of suction events includes a fluid challenge and/or adjusting the device speed in conjunction with the VAD team.

The chest radiograph (CXR) is an important diagnostic tool for VAD patients. Direct visualization of VAD positioning as well as presence/absence of ICD aids the emergency physician in baseline evaluation. CXR can also help to identify the particular device if it is not otherwise apparent (Table).

Laboratory workup is vital in the evaluation of VAD patients. All patients with VADs are anti-coagulated with vitamin K antagonists (e.g., warfarin) with an international normalized ratio (INR) goal of 2.0–3.0 unless contraindicated.[7] Troponin (troponin T, hsTnI), creatine kinase-MB, and myoglobin may be useful in evaluating VAD patients with chest pain or ECG changes. Elevated brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) (or NT-proBNP) may help identify right heart failure, or pump thrombosis/malfunction. As BNP is primarily an atrial responsive agent, it remains a useful marker for identifying volume overload in VAD patients and can guide therapy (e.g. diuresis). Finally, lactic acid dehydrogenase (LDH) is useful in screening for evidence of hemolysis. LDH levels 2.5 times upper limit of normal are suggestive of pump thrombosis in the appropriate clinical setting.[7]