When you hurt a muscle, it's usually advisable to lay off extensive use of it, until it's had a chance to heal. Well, your heart is a muscle. Although you can't just stop using it altogether when it's damaged, you can make its job easier. That's what Sunshine Heart's C-Pulse system was designed to do, and a current study suggests that it does indeed help victims of heart failure recover more quickly.
Here's how C-Pulse works ...
In a surgical procedure, its balloon-equipped cuff is placed around the heart's ascending aorta. At that time, its two electrodes are also placed on the outside of the heart. C-Pulse's air hose and electrical leads are then led out of the body, via an exit site in the abdomen.
The external component of the system is a handbag-sized driver that the user must wear over their shoulder, and which they plug into the wiring protruding from the exit site. The driver contains the battery pack, along with the electrical pump for the cuff. Although it can be disconnected as needed, users are advised not to do so for very long, as it detracts from the treatment.
Once powered up, the system monitors the beating of the heart via the two electrodes. It responds by alternately inflated and deflating the cuff – it's deflated when the heart is ejecting blood, and inflated when it's drawing it in. This in turn squeezes the aorta in and out, sort of like a hand pump. As a result, the heart is able to pump more blood using less effort. This allows users to perform activities such as walking, while still allowing their heart to rest up and recuperate.
In the current study, being conducted through 19 US hospitals, 20 patients with moderate to severe heart failure had C-Pulse systems implanted. When assessed at the six-month and one-year marks, 16 of them showed significant improvement, moving from a class III or IV down to a mild rating of I on the New York Heart Association's Stages of Heart Failure scale (it should however be noted that three of the other test subjects died, one of them from a "device-related" cause).
They were additionally able to walk an average of 100 feet (30.5 m) farther, and their average quality of life scores improved by around 30 points. "Drug and device therapies that are currently available for heart failure improve that same quality of life score by only five or 10 points," said lead researcher Dr. William Abraham, of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "So, this is truly a significant improvement."
Eight of the test subjects did experience infection at the abdominal exit site. On the plus side, however, because the internal components of the system are located outside the bloodstream, there's less chance of complications such as bleeding or sepsis than there is with other implanted devices.
A paper on the research was recently published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology Heart Failure. C-Pulse is currently still classified as an investigational device, and is not yet commercially available. More information on it is available in the video below.
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