Women Less Likely than Men to Receive Life-Saving Heart Pump

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Women who have advanced heart failure are less likely than men with the condition to receive a potentially life-saving heart pump known as a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, according to a study published online last fall in Circulation Heart Failure.

Doctors have implanted more than 20,000 left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) in people with heart failure over the past decade, but recipients have been disproportionately men, according to the study. An LVAD is a mechanical pump that helps a weakened bottom left chamber of the heart keep blood circulating. It’s used either temporarily while a patient with advanced heart failure waits for a heart transplant or longer term to extend life if a patient isn’t eligible for, or chooses not to undergo, a transplant. Women account for about one-third of all advanced heart failure patients, yet in 2016 they made up only 22 percent of LVAD recipients.

The researchers analyzed data from nearly 30,000 LVAD implant procedures from 2004 to 2016 and found that the percentage of implants in women decreased by about 4 percent since 2004. Prior studies have found that, overall, women have a higher incidence of heart failure than men, but their treatment lags. For example, women are less likely than men to receive drug therapy for their condition.

WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW: In 2008, new, improved LVADs were introduced. The latest pumps are smaller and more durable than older generation pumps—which had worse outcomes in general and higher death rates in women than in men. The newer LVADs have similar outcomes and death rates in men and women. But some cardiologists may be relying on outdated statistics based on older pumps, say researchers, which steers them away from recommending newer LVADs for women.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: If your doctor says you’re not eligible for an LVAD, don’t be afraid to ask why. He or she may have valid reasons why you wouldn’t make a good candidate, but you should be given the opportunity to weigh in on any decision and ask follow-up questions. And before you consent to long-term LVAD, make sure you’re fully aware of its risks and benefits.