An intraaortic balloon pump (IABP) is a device that helps the heart pump. It can make the difference between life and death.
The IABP provides temporary help to a severely weakened heart. It may be used:
The IABP is a long tube (catheter) with a collapsed, 8-inch, sausage-shaped plastic balloon at its tip. The catheter is inserted in an artery in your groin. You will be given a shot to numb the area where the tube is inserted, but you will remain awake. You may have some minor discomfort, but the procedure is mostly painless. Your healthcare provider directs the tube through the artery and positions it in your aorta, the large blood vessel in the middle of your chest. A pump is attached to the end of the catheter. The balloon is rapidly inflated and deflated in time with your heartbeat.
The balloon inflates at the beginning of the resting period of each heartbeat. The inflated balloon raises blood pressure in the aorta while the heart muscle is resting. The higher aortic blood pressure increases blood flow to the body, particularly to the resting heart muscle through the coronary arteries. The balloon quickly deflates at the start of the next heartbeat. This quickly lowers blood pressure in the aorta so the heart doesn’t have to work too hard. The result is increased blood flow from the heart at less cost to the heart.
The IABP, made of various forms of plastic, is a foreign object in the bloodstream. Foreign objects can cause blood clots to form. The major danger of the IABP is the formation of blood clots around the catheter. Blood thinners (anticoagulants) must be used to prevent the clots. If clots do form, parts of them may break away and float with the bloodstream to block arteries. When the pump is left in for more than a few days, there is risk of infection.
The IABP can be used for weeks. Then, danger of clots in the bloodstream and possible mechanical problems with the balloon require IABP removal. The longer the balloon is in place, the more dangerous it becomes. Because they need constant attention, IABPs are used mainly in intensive care units.
IABP is reserved for critically ill people. High death rates continue to occur in this group even with the use of an IABP. The IABP itself is rarely the main cause of death. The disease requiring its use is usually responsible.
An IABP can sometimes save the lives of critically ill people who would otherwise die.