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Ann Diagn Pathol. 2001 Apr;5(2):67-73.

Neuropathology associated with ventricular assist devices: an autopsy series of 33 patients.

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Department of Neurology, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland, OH 44195, USA.


The ventricular assist device (VAD) is a mechanical pump that has been shown to be an effective modality of cardiac support in patients with heart failure refractory to pharmacologic intervention and who are awaiting cardiac allograft transplantation. Neuropathologic findings in these patients have not been well described. We retrospectively reviewed 2,632 autopsy reports (between 1990 and 2000) and found 64 patients who received VADs. Of these 64 patients, brain and spinal cord tissue was available for review in 33 patients (25 males and eight females; age range, 4 to 69 years; mean age, 52 years). The study group was composed of these 33 patients. Ventricular assist devices were in place from one to 603 days (mean 49 days). Twenty-five patients had left VAD, three had right VAD, and five had biventricular VADs. Brain weights ranged from 928 g to 1,740 g (mean 1,325 g). The most common central nervous system pathologic findings included infarct (N = 23; 70%), acute neuronal necrosis (N = 22; 67% focal and N = 1; diffuse anoxic encephalopathy), hemorrhage (N = 14; 42%), and herniations (N = 7; 21%). Two patients had no neuropathologic findings at autopsy. Cause of death was central nervous system-related in eight patients (24%) including six with massive parenchymal hemorrhage and herniations, one with brainstem infarction, and one with air embolism (radiographically diagnosed). The most common causes of death in the remaining 25 patients included sepsis (n = 10; 30%), pneumonia (n = 4; 12%), and embolic events with widespread infarcts (n = 4; 12%). The most common neuropathologic findings in patients with VAD were related to ischemia and infarction. In a significant subset of patients, central nervous system pathology, particularly hemorrhage with herniation, was the primary cause of death. Ann Diagn Pathol 5:67-73, 2001.

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