Sympathetic neural and hemodynamic responses to upright tilt in patients with pulsatile and nonpulsatile left ventricular assist devices

David W. Markham, Qi Fu, M. Dean Palmer, Mark H Drazner, Dan M Meyer, Brian T. Bethea, Jeffrey L Hastings, Naoki Fujimoto, Shigeki Shibata, Benjamin D Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Background-Left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) are now widely accepted as an option for patients with advanced heart failure. First-generation devices were pulsatile, but they had poor longevity and durability. Newer generation devices are nonpulsatile and more durable, but remain associated with an increased risk of stroke and hypertension. Moreover, little is understood about the physiological effects of the chronic absence of pulsatile flow in humans. Methods and Results-We evaluated patients with pulsatile (n=6) and nonpulsatile (n=11) LVADs and healthy controls (n=9) during head-up tilt while measuring hemodynamics and muscle sympathetic nerve activity. Patients with nonpulsatile devices had markedly elevated supine and upright muscle sympathetic nerve activity (mean±SD, 43±15 supine and 60±21 bursts/ min at 60° head-up tilt) compared with patients with pulsatile devices (24±7 and 35±8 bursts/min; P<0.01) and controls (11±6 and 31±6 bursts/min; P<0.01); however, muscle sympathetic nerve activity was not different between patients with pulsatile flow and controls (P=0.34). Heart rate, mean arterial pressure, and total peripheral resistance were greater, whereas cardiac output was smaller, in LVAD patients compared with controls in both supine and upright postures. However, these hemodynamic variables were not significantly different between patients with pulsatile and nonpulsatile flow. Conclusions-Heart failure patients with continuous, nonpulsatile LVADs have marked sympathetic activation, which is likely due, at least in part, to baroreceptor unloading. We speculate that such chronic sympathetic activation may contribute to, or worsen end-organ diseases, and reduce the possibility of ventricular recovery. Strategies to provide some degree of arterial pulsatility, even in continuous flow LVADs may be necessary to achieve optimal outcomes in these patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)293-299
Number of pages7
JournalCirculation: Heart Failure
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Assist device
  • Baroreceptors
  • Heart failure
  • Nonpulsatility
  • Pulsatility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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