What is Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump (IABP) Insertion?

High-risk patients whose hearts are not able to pump blood effectively may be fitted with a device called an intra-aortic balloon pump or IABP. This device is a temporary, surgically implanted pump that does some of the work of the heart and supports the heart in moving blood throughout the body. An IABP may be used after a heart attack, during heart surgery, for patients who are having trouble after a bypass, or as a "bridge" treatment for patients who are waiting for a heart transplant.

An intra-aortic balloon pump is a small, sausage-shaped balloon at the end of a catheter, or very thin, flexible tube. An incision is made (usually in the groin), and the deflated balloon and catheter are threaded through an artery to the aorta, the large main artery that takes oxygen-filled blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The pump can also be placed during open-heart surgery. If this is the case, it is positioned directly into the aorta. Once in place, the balloon inflates and deflates in rhythm with the heart. When it inflates, it pushes blood back towards the heart to help the heart muscle get enough oxygen and fill correctly. When the IABP deflates, just before the heart contracts, it lowers the pressure in the aorta slightly. This helps move blood away from the heart and into the body.

An IABP is a short-term solution, used for only hours or up to a few weeks at most. The pump is powered and controlled by a computer outside the body, so during treatment you must stay lying in a hospital bed. Insertion of the device is performed at a cardiac catheterization lab or operating room, and patients with an intra-aortic balloon pump often stay in the intensive care unit (ICU). While it is not a particularly painful treatment, it is common for patients to hear and feel the balloon inflating and deflating within their chest, which can be unsettling. However, IABP is a safe and effective treatment for supporting the heart.