Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump Therapy
What is intra-aortic balloon pump therapy?
An intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) is a device that helps your heart pump more blood.
You may need it if your heart is unable to pump enough blood for your body.
The IABP consists of a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. Attached to the tip
of the catheter is a long balloon. This is called an intra-aortic balloon, or IAB.
The other end of the catheter attaches to a computer console. This console has a mechanism
for inflating and deflating the balloon at the proper time when your heart beats.
Your heart pumps oxygenated blood and nutrients to all parts of your body. Blood leaves
the heart through the arteries, the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood. The
outer walls of the heart also contain arteries. These are called the coronary arteries.
Through these blood vessels, the heart gets the oxygen and nutrients it needs.
When the heart contracts, it sends blood out to the body. As it relaxes, blood flows
into the coronary arteries to bring oxygen to the heart. An IABP allows blood to flow
more easily into your coronary arteries. It also helps your heart pump more blood
with each contraction.
The balloon is inserted into your aorta. The aorta is the large artery leaving your heart. In many cases, this procedure
is done through a small cut on the inside of your upper leg. Your healthcare provider
will insert the balloon pump catheter into an artery in your leg. They will then guide
it to your aorta.
From there, the IABP can start to do its work. The balloon is set to inflate when
the heart relaxes. It pushes blood flow back toward the coronary arteries. They may
not have been getting enough blood without the pump. When the heart contracts, the
balloon deflates. That lets the heart pump more blood out to the body while using
less energy. The device continues to inflate and deflate until it is removed.
An IABP is a short-term treatment. You may need it until your heart condition improves
or until you can get a more permanent treatment. Its use is rapidly growing. But it’s
not yet available at all medical centers.
Why might I need intra-aortic balloon pump therapy?
IABP therapy is used to treat cardiogenic shock. That’s when your heart can’t pump
enough blood to meet the needs of your body.
Some heart problems can cause cardiogenic shock. These include:
You may also need an IABP if you have a certain medical procedure. For example, you
may need it if you have a percutaneous coronary intervention. This procedure opens
a blocked artery in the heart. You also might benefit from an IABP if you have heart
In some cases, you might not be able to use an IABP, even if your heart can’t pump
enough blood. For example, people with a leaky aortic valve can’t safely use an IABP.
Those with aortic aneurysms also can’t benefit from the therapy.
What are the risks of intra-aortic balloon pump therapy?
IABP therapy can be very helpful. It can sometimes even be life-saving. But it does
have some risks. These include:
Damage from the lack of blood flow to a limb (ischemia)
Injury to an artery
Rupture of the balloon
Incorrect position of the balloon, which might cause injury to the kidneys or other
Low platelet count, which might cause excess bleeding because your blood doesn’t clot
Your particular risks depend on your age and any other medical conditions you may
have. For example, a lack of blood flow to your leg may be more likely if you have
peripheral vascular disease.
How do I get ready for intra-aortic balloon pump therapy?
Before your procedure, talk with your healthcare provider about all your concerns.
They will give you detailed instructions. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider
if you are pregnant or think you could be. Also let them know if you have:
If you smoke, you should try to stop before your procedure. It will help reduce your
chance of complications. You should also not eat or drink anything after midnight
before the day of your procedure. You may also need to stop taking any medicines.
Before and during the treatment, you will probably need to take medicine to help prevent
You may need other tests to assess your health beforehand. These might include:
Basic blood work, to check for anemia and infection
Electrocardiogram, to check your heart rhythm
Chest X-ray, to view your heart and lungs
Echocardiogram, to view how well your heart is pumping
Cardiac catheterization, to see how widespread your coronary disease is
What happens during intra-aortic balloon pump therapy?
IABP therapy involves inserting the balloon-tipped catheter into a blood vessel and
advancing it to the heart. Usually, this happens during a heart-related surgery. In
an emergency, a medical team may insert it at your bedside or in the cardiac catheterization
Your healthcare provider can tell you exactly what to expect. In general, the procedure
has the following steps:
You’ll first receive some anesthesia. If you are having the insertion during surgery,
you may already be under general anesthesia. In that case, you will be asleep and
won’t feel anything. In other cases, you may get medicine to help you relax. You will
also get numbing medicine at the insertion site.
Throughout the procedure, your heart rate, blood pressure, and other vital signs will
A small cut will be made through an artery in the upper part of your inner thigh.
The balloon catheter will be inserted there.
A surgeon will advance the catheter to a part of the aorta in your chest region. They
can see this movement using continuous X-ray imaging (fluoroscopy).
The balloon will be programmed to inflate when your heart relaxes. It will deflate
when your heart contracts
The end of the catheter will be secured, so it stays in place.
You may feel some chest pain after the procedure. It should go away within minutes
of starting the IABP. If you are still having symptoms, you may need further treatment.
Your healthcare provider will watch for complications. You will need to stay in bed
afterward and until the IABP is removed. The head of your bed should be slightly elevated.
The leg with the catheter insertion should remain straight. That will help keep the
balloon from moving out of place. You may also need daily chest X-rays to make sure
the device is still in the correct spot. The pump normally makes sounds as it cycles
between inflation and deflation.
Tell your healthcare provider right away about any new symptoms, such as bleeding
from the insertion site. Chest pain might be a sign that the timing of your device
needs to be adjusted. Paleness or tingling in your leg may point to reduced blood
flow to that region.
What happens after intra-aortic balloon pump therapy?
You may need to stay on the pump for several days. Your healthcare provider will monitor
you. They may temporarily turn the pump off to see how you respond. Or they may set
it to inflate and deflate with only every second or fourth heartbeat. If your heart
continues to pump well on its own, you may be ready to stop the IABP therapy. You
might also stop the therapy when another intervention becomes available. This might
be a donated heart or permanent mechanical assist device.
When it's time to remove the pump, you will likely get medicine to help you relax.
Your healthcare provider will then remove the catheter and the attached balloon. They
will also close up the incision on your leg or apply direct pressure for a few minutes.
Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions about what to expect. Follow
these carefully to help increase your chances of a positive outcome.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:
The name of the test or procedure
The reason you are having the test or procedure
What results to expect and what they mean
The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
What the possible side effects or complications are
When and where you are to have the test or procedure
Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
When and how you will get the results
Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure