“What Should Patients Know About Pumphead?” asks Pam

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.

 

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.

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