Percutaneous ventricular assist device (Impella)

If you’re critically ill with heart failure, the Impella device may be able to help.

The world’s tiniest artificial heart pump, Impella supports your heart by taking over some of its work temporarily. This gives your heart a chance to rest and recover from injury, infection, or surgery.

Impella can serve as a short-term bridge to recovery, heart transplant, or implantation of a long-term heart support device.

University of Iowa Heart and Vascular Center cardiology specialists have years of experience using Impella and other artificial heart pumps.

Our approach to mechanical heart support

Your UI Heart and Vascular Center cardiologist might place an Impella as part of a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), a minimally invasive procedure to open a clogged artery.

It can also be placed on its own if you have myocarditis, cardiogenic shock, or another condition that’s weakening your heart.

And if Impella turns out not to be the right choice for you, you’ll have other options. UI Heart and Vascular Center cardiologists offer the widest range of heart support devices in Iowa, including:

Your team will choose the best device for you based on your customized treatment plan.

What to expect with Impella

How the Impella is placed

An Impella pump is placed during a minimally invasive procedure.

  • Depending on your treatment plan, you could be awake and relaxed with sedation, or asleep under general anesthesia.
  • Your interventional cardiologist will make a small incision near your groin and insert a flexible tube (catheter) into your artery.
  • The catheter is threaded up to your heart through your blood vessels. The Impella device is placed in your heart through the catheter and takes over the ventricle’s pumping work.
  • If your Impella was placed during a percutaneous coronary intervention, your cardiologist may remove it when the procedure is done.

After the Impella is in place

If your heart needs more support, or you need to recover from another condition, the Impella can stay in until your condition is stable. Here’s what you can expect while it’s in place:

  • The Impella catheter remains in place while the device supports your heart. It’s connected to a small external computer that powers and controls the device. Your care team will monitor the computer closely.
  • The Impella can stay in your heart for a few hours to a few days. You’ll remain in the hospital while you have the Impella in place.
  • Depending on your overall condition, you may be able to walk short distances in the hospital with the Impella in place.  
  • When your heart recovers, or when you’re ready to move to longer-term support like ECMO or an LVAD, your cardiologist will remove the Impella through the same incision used to place it.

Who can benefit from Impella?

Your care team might decide to use Impella if:

  • You’re having a cardiac catheterization procedure to clear a heart blockage and are at high risk of complications. Impella takes over pumping duties for your heart during and after the procedure.
  • You’ve had a heart attack or chest trauma and are in cardiogenic shock, meaning that your heart is no longer pumping blood effectively.
  • Your heart needs support while you wait for a heart transplant or an LVAD implantation.

Alternatives to Impella

If you have heart valve disease or blood clots, an Impella may not be right for you. Your care team could choose other artificial heart pump options to support your heart, including:

  • Tandem Heart: This is another temporary heart support device that is placed using a minimally invasive procedure. It allows your left ventricle to rest and recover. Our cardiology team has more experience with Tandem Heart than anyone else in the state.
  • ECMO: This option takes over for your lungs and your heart while you heal from injury, infection, or surgery. It is used while you are in the hospital.
  • LVAD: This device can be implanted to assist your heart, either permanently or while you wait for a transplant.

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Care Team

Physician, Internal Medicine