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Heart Disease Health Center

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Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump - Topic Overview

What is an intra-aortic balloon pump?

An intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) is a mechanical device that helps the heart pump blood.

This device 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, 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.

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

Why is it used?

An IABP might be used to stabilize a person who is in the hospital for acute mitral valve regurgitation or severe heart failure.

An IABP is only used for a short period of time (hours to days). A long-term treatment will likely be needed, such as valve surgery or the insertion of a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

How does it work?

The IABP reduces the workload on your heart, allowing your heart to pump more blood. The IABP is placed inside your aorta, the artery that takes blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The balloon on the end of the catheter inflates and deflates with the rhythm of your heart. This helps your heart pump blood to the body.

The IABP improves the function of only your left ventricle, since this is the chamber that pumps blood into your aorta. Here's how an IABP works:

  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.

What are the risks?

  • 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.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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