How Artificial Hearts Work

The AbioCor is the first artificial heart to be used in nearly two decades.  See more modern medicine pictures.
Photo courtesy Abiomed

Your heart is the engine inside your body that keeps everything running. Basically, the heart is a muscular pump that maintains oxygen and blood circulation through your lungs and body. In a day, your heart pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood. Like any engine, if the heart is not well taken care of it can break down and pump less efficiently, a condition called heart failure.

Until recently, the only option for many severe heart failure patients has been heart transplants. However, there are only slightly more than 2,000 heart transplants performed in the United States annually, meaning that tens of thousands of people die waiting for a donor heart. On July 2, 2001, heart failure patients were given new hope as surgeons at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, performed the first artificial heart transplant in nearly two decades. The AbioCor Implantable Replacement Heart is the first completely self-contained artificial heart and is expected to at least double the life expectancy of heart patients.

In this article, you will get an in-depth look at how this new artificial heart works, how it's implanted into a patient's chest and who might be a candidate for receiving one of these mechanical hearts. We will also compare the AbioCor heart to the artificial hearts that have failed in the past.