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What is an Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) is also sometimes called an intra-aortic balloon counterpulsation pump. It is a device used by surgeons who treat heart patients. This device consists of a thin, inflatable tube, called a catheter, that is hooked up to a balloon. An IABP also contains a device to inflate and deflate the balloon, as well as a gas container.

The aorta is the artery that carries blood from the heart to other blood vessels. An intra-aortic balloon pump works by inflating when the heart is receiving blood, and deflating when the heart pumps blood out. It can automatically keep pace with the patient’s heartbeat with the use of either a pacemaker or a timing device. The IABP serves to increase the body’s blood flow, and to decrease the amount of work that the heart needs to do.

An intra-aortic balloon pump may be used by patients who have suffered from heart failure, or ischemia. Ischemia occurs when the heart does not get enough oxygen, which can be due to blood vessels becoming narrow or blocked. Sometimes, an IABP device can be used for patients who are having heart surgery. This helps the surgeon evaluate the blood pressure in the aorta.

Patients who need an intra-aortic balloon pump will only use it on a temporary basis. Typically, the device is used for a few days at most. Some patients may use the device longer, such as a month. The disadvantage to using the device longer than a few days is that the patient needs to be continually connected to computer controls with a catheter.

To insert the intra-aortic balloon pump, the surgeon will first administer a blood-thinning medication to the patient. Next, an incision will be made in one of the patient’s legs, near the groin area. An additional incision will be made in the artery. The catheter can then be threaded into the artery so that it reaches the aorta, near the heart. Occasionally, the surgeon may decide to not use the leg artery, but to instead place the catheter directly into the chest.

Some patients may not gain full benefits from an IABP. Patients who have a blood vessel disease, diabetes, or those who smoke may be at a greater risk of complications from this procedure. If the patient has suffered severe damage to the heart, the IABP may not work as well. Patients who suffer complications from this device may experience infection, blood clots, and poor circulation.

An intra-aortic balloon pump can result in some side effects. Patients should notify their caregiver immediately if the bandage becomes saturated with blood. Additional side effects may include fever, chills, or burning pain at the insertion site.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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