“What Should Patients Know About Pumphead?” asks Pam

By Adam Pick on January 26, 2018

For patients needing open heart surgery…  The use of a heart-lung machine, also known as the “Pump”, is required to circulate blood while the heart is stopped, fixed and then restarted. The use of the Pump, however, has unfortunately been associated with cognitive issues – forgetfulness, poor attention span, fogginess, reduced speed of movement – following surgery.

Specific to this important topic, I received a great question from Pam about “Pumphead”.  She wrote to me, “Hi Adam, I had robotic mitral valve surgery in January. Although I’m feeling good, I still have lingering symptoms of Pumphead – double vision, floaters in my vision, fuzziness.  What exactly causes Pumphead? What is happening in my brain when I’m experiencing these post-surgery symptoms?”

To answer Pam’s question, I connected with Dr. Patrick McCarthy at the Heart Valve Summit in Chicago.  Dr. McCarthy, who is the Chief of Cardiac Surgery at Northwestern Medicine, has performed over 10,000 cardiac procedures and more than 4,000 heart valve operations.  So you know, Dr. McCarthy has successfully treated over 100 patients from our community and invented many heart valve devices.  Here’s the highlights from our chat about Pumphead.

 

 

On a personal note, I did not experience the commonly referenced symptoms of Pumphead.  I’ve also talked to many patients who did not experience Pumphead either.  At the same time, I have spoke with several patients that detailed symptoms (memory loss, attention issues, brain fog, etc.) that they attribute to the Pumphead concept.

So… Specific to Dr. McCarthy’s first point… If you have been experiencing Pumphead-like symptoms after surgery, you may want to consult a doctor to ensure that everything is okay. As I always say, “Better safe than sorry!”

Thanks so much to Pam for her question about Pumphead and many thanks to Dr. McCarthy for sharing his research and clinical experience with our patient community!

Keep on tickin!
Adam

P.S. For the hearing impaired members of our community, I provided a written transcript of my Pumphead interview with Dr. McCarthy below..

Adam Pick: Hi, everybody. It’s Adam with HeartValveSurgery.com. We’re at the Heart Valve Summit in Chicago, Illinois and we’re answering your questions. I’m thrilled to be here with Dr. Patrick McCarthy. Dr. McCarthy, thanks for being with us.

Patrick McCarthy: Thanks, Adam. Thanks for having me here.

Adam Pick: He is the Executive Director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern Medicine, here in Chicago. Dr. McCarthy, we have a question from Pam. She writes in, “Adam, I had robotic mitral valve surgery in January. Although I’m feeling good, I still have lingering symptoms of Pumphead – double vision, floaters in my vision, fuzziness. My question is what exactly causes pumphead, and what is happening in my brain when I’m experiencing these post-surgery symptoms?”

 

Dr. Patrick McCarthy (Northwestern Medicine)

 

Dr. Patrick McCarthy: Pumphead is this kind of vague term that people throw around, and they have for years. First of all, I’d recommend that Pam see a neurologist about this because what she’s describing is actually quite unusual, that people would have that that early. Many years ago they did a study, and they did very sophisticated testing before surgery and at the time of discharge. They found out that people didn’t do as well on their neurologic test. No surprise; they just had an anesthetic, they had a lot of narcotics.

They repeated the test at six weeks, and then the studies showed they were back to baseline. They came up with this Pumphead idea that they are kind of confused because of the pump, as if it was a heart/lung machine. Other studies after that debunked that myth, that people get that from narcotics, and that it wasn’t so much related to the heart/lung machine. We still hear about it all the time, though. People ask us about it. If people do have any sort of lingering concern, I do suggest that they see somebody; there could be something else going on.

Adam Pick: Great. Dr. McCarthy, thanks for taking the time to share your clinical experiences and answering Pam questions. Pam, I hope that helped you. I know it helped me. Thanks, again, Dr. McCarthy.

Dr. Patrick McCarthy: Thank you, Adam.

 


Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded HeartValveSurgery.com to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded HeartValveSurgery.com to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.


Jeff Oswald says on January 26th, 2018 at 3:56 pm

I can relate to this I was 18 months out from my surgery and experienced these symptoms I ended up going to my PCP she referred me to a neurologist who tested me and diagnosed me with pumphead it is a real thing especially if your more than a year out like I was I was put on Aricept it made a difference for about 6-7months but the affects were short lived. It seems I’m not where I was previously I had a follow up appointment last week and he re-tested me and confirmed what I had seen and my wife had also noticed and slow slide backwards from where I was. My neurologist ( he has been a neurologist for 25 years ) had told me most patients experience this up to a year after surgery but most get better for those that develop this after a year it’s probably a permanent condition unfortunately. I really hoped things would turn around I can’t speak for others but this is my experiences with pumphead it dose exist



barbara oakerson says on January 26th, 2018 at 6:23 pm

Not sure about that answer… I’ve had two open heart aortic valve surgeries in the last 5 years and both caused multiple neuro problems.— I’ve been a migraine ( with aura) sufferer for many years and this has been made much worse and more frequent. I also experience constant Silver streak floaters only since I’ve had these operations.
I’ve also had 6 other major surgeries.. not requiring the pump and had no after effects even though several were over 5 hours long…



Wayne Feuerborn says on January 26th, 2018 at 7:04 pm

I had mitral valve surgery in 6/2015.
Post op I noticed floaters occasionally.
Loss of short term memory but not long term.
Loss of math skills but some are coming back.
I have apraxia and anomic Aphasia so I’m pretty nonverbal.
I can’t see the point in time measuring or calendar.
I know there are 12 months, 24 hours but I have to think about it if you ask what day is it?
I have to ask how do you spell this or that?
I am seeing a neurologist as I had 2 seizures in 2016 and taking anti seizure medicine.
My heart valve was infected by MRSA and I had strokes as a result of the infection.



Ken Rose says on January 27th, 2018 at 4:09 am

Starting the process for an aortic stenosis valve replacement. I keep getting these flush feelings and can’t wait to get this done and get on with my life, I go in 4 days for the Cath to check my arteries. Then set up a date.



Andrea Medard says on January 27th, 2018 at 6:31 am

I definitely had something along these lines big time for at least 2 months. I am a medical professional, yet I could not even set up my own med or remember if I had seen the doctor, or much of anything. Now, 11 yrs later, I still have memory deficits. The issue is real … although it could also be related to chemo which I had 25 yrs ago, too, since it also left me with seemingly permanent deficits and challenges.



hokiesid says on January 31st, 2018 at 9:28 am

Pumphead is real Adam. Had aortic valve replacement at 42 and for next three years had what I now believe are the silver streakers followed by a migraine. We have no option about having surgery so I see pumphead as just part of the recovery process. I just don’t want people to think pumphead is a neurological issue.



Rick Whittle says on February 1st, 2018 at 3:08 pm

I had these symptoms after surgery but they are slowly going away. I am 17 weeks post surgery.



ElcyIL says on June 7th, 2018 at 4:46 pm

This response doesn’t surprise me, Dr. McCarthy did my surgery and the team at Northwestern is very resistant to admitting any side effects from the procedure or the meds you take after. I was having SEVERE migraines with aura after surgery, getting them twice a day. I couldn’t begin to recover because I couldn’t get out of my chair. I kept calling NW and they would tell me to go see a neurologist because they were certain the migraines were not a result of anything they did. Turns out it was the beta blocker, as soon as I stopped taking it my migraines went back to normal.


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