Intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) for heart failure

An intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) is a mechanical device that is inserted into the aorta, the body's largest artery. It is a long, thin tube called a catheter with a balloon on the end of it. If you are hospitalized in the intensive care unit, your doctor may insert an IABP. Your doctor will numb an area of your leg and thread the IABP through the femoral artery in your leg into your aorta. He or she then positions the IABP at the center of your aorta, below your heart.

The doctor will use an X-ray machine during this procedure to help accurately position the IABP.

How does it work?

The IABP reduces the workload on your heart, thereby allowing your heart to pump more blood. After the IABP is placed inside your aorta, the balloon on the end of the catheter inflates and deflates with the same rhythm as your heart. The IABP improves the function of only your left ventricle, since this is the chamber that pumps blood into your aorta. The IABP functions in the following way:

1. After your left ventricle has finished contracting, the balloon inflates. This inflation helps increase blood flow to the heart and the rest of the body.

2. As your left ventricle is about to pump out blood, the balloon deflates. This deflation creates extra space in the aorta, allowing the heart to pump out more blood. This decreases the workload on the heart.

IABPs offer people many benefits. Blood flow to your body improves. Blood that has backed up into the lungs is also able to flow out.

What are the drawbacks?

  • IABPs cause some side effects. An IABP can cause an infection in your bloodstream if it is used for too long. The balloon may overinflate and tear your aorta.
  • IABP treatment is also inconvenient. You must lie extremely still in your hospital bed if you have one of these devices in place. An IABP is only used for a short period of time (hours to days) until a longer-term solution, such as bypass surgery or insertion of a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), is possible.

Last Updated: August 25, 2008

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