The Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump: A Patient's Guide

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How Does it Work?

The IABP is simply a catheter apparatus with a balloon attached. Following insertion into the body, the catheter is advanced into the aorta. Once there, the inflation and deflation mechanisms are controlled via computer. The pump alternates between the two states of inflation and deflation, allowing for better flow of blood and decreasing how hard the heart must work. It works with the natural rhythms in the heart to prevent further complications. The pressure is also adjusted according to the intra-aortic pressure that is regularly occurring. During relaxation, the balloon inflates and deflates when the heart is preparing to beat again.

Who May Be a Good Candidate for IABP?

Patients suffering from various types of heart conditions are often good candidates for the intra-aortic balloon pump procedure. This can include those suffering from congestive heart failure, individuals undergoing open heart surgery and acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) patients. However, these are only a few indications of the use of this pump. It is not uncommon for those awaiting a heart transplant or in patients having any other types of cardiothoracic surgery to have such an intervention. Still, it may not be appropriate for all individuals and as with other types of devices inserted into the body, there are some risks.

What About the Risks?

Regardless of the procedure, there are always some potential risks. However, these are very rare and do not occur in the majority of patients. Potential risks may include mechanical failure of the balloon which can lead to different outcomes depending on the patient, embolism and increased workload on the heart. After the balloon catheter is removed, infection may also pose as a more serious risk. In extreme circumstances, improper placement can lead to renal failure due to the blockage of the renal artery. Further complications may also arise if the device isn’t properly in tune with the mechanisms of the cardiac cycle.

Other Important Information

Placement of the intra-aortic balloon pump is not intended to be permanent. In surgical patients, the catheter is often removed prior to leaving the operating room. However, the duration of placement may be longer for some individuals. In most cases, it is left in for no more than a couple of days. Patients suffering from heart failure or who may be waiting for a heart transplant are the most likely to have the IABP inserted for the longest duration of time. You should always consult with your cardiologist with any questions or concerns regarding this procedure, if you are able. The IABP procedure is not always elective, especially in an emergency situation.


Intraaortic Balloon Pump. Saint Joseph Hospital. Viewed 28, November 2010.

Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump. Texas Heart Institute at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. 1996-2010. Viewed 28, November 2010.

Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump. United Hospital Systems. Viewed 28, November 2010.