What Is an Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump?

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An intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) is a therapeutic device that helps the heart muscle pump more blood throughout your body. This allows the heart to work using less energy. IABP therapy temporarily supports people until their hearts can pump normally (on their own or with the help of a more permanent solution or device).

This article will discuss what conditions an IABP can help, the procedure to install one, its benefits, and potential side effects.

Intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) machine.

Pijitra Phomkham / Getty Images

What Is an IABP Used For?

IABP therapy is used in people who have the following:

It is also used for cardiogenic shock, which happens when the heart is so damaged that it can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to the body’s organs. However, some recent studies suggest that IABP's do not reduce mortality in people with cardiogenic shock, and may not be as beneficial as once thought. More research is needed to support this claim.

IABP Procedure

During the procedure to place an IABP, a balloon will be inserted into the aorta. The aorta is the main artery carrying blood from your heart to the rest of your body. The balloon is attached to a catheter, a thin plastic tube, that is pushed inside the blood vessel leading to the aorta.

You may receive general anesthesia or medication to help you relax for the procedure. The site where the catheter is inserted will be numbed with local anesthesia.

How Does an IABP Increase Cardiac Output?

The balloon inflates when your heart relaxes, pushing blood back into the arteries that bring blood to the heart. When your heart contracts, the balloon deflates. This helps more blood get to the body without the heart working as hard.

Possible Risks

There are risks to getting IABP therapy. Whether certain risks are likely to impact you will depend on your age and health conditions. They include:

  • Injury to an artery
  • Balloon burst
  • Infection
  • Stroke
  • Excess bleeding due to low platelet count
  • Kidney injury due to incorrect positioning of the balloon

Your healthcare provider will closely monitor you to detect complications as early as possible.

When Is an IABP Removed?

IABP therapy is a temporary solution for heart failure. You may have the pump in for several days while your healthcare provider monitors your progress. Your provider will test your heart to see how well it pumps blood on its own by turning the IABP off or setting it to have longer gaps between inflating and deflating (for instance, every second or fourth heartbeat).

If you need a permanent solution, such as a heart transplant or left-ventricular assist device (LVAD), you will get the IABP removed once those become available.

Summary

An intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) is a therapeutic device to help the heart pump more blood around the body. Someone may need IABP therapy if they have experienced cardiogenic shock, a condition in which the heart is too damaged to function properly. Heart attacks, abnormal heart rhythms, or too much fluid around the heart can reduce the capacity of the heart to pump blood normally.

An IABP is a thin plastic tube (catheter) with a balloon attached to the end; it's inserted into the blood vessel that leads to the aorta. The balloon inflates when your heart relaxes and deflates when your heart contracts. This support helps your heart use less energy to pump blood.

Risks of IABP therapy include infection, stroke, balloon bursting, injury to the artery, or kidney damage from incorrect placement.  

IABP therapy is temporary. The device will be removed when your heart can pump normally on its own or when you are ready for a long-term solution to address your condition.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Intra-aortic balloon pump therapy.

  2. National Institutes of Health. Cardiogenic shock treatment.

  3. MedlinePlus. Cardiogenic shock.

  4. University of Rochester Medical Center. Intra-aortic balloon therapy.

By Carisa Brewster
Carisa D. Brewster is a freelance journalist with over 20 years of experience writing for newspapers, magazines, and digital publications. She specializes in science and healthcare content.