An intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) is a temporary device that supports the heart. It increases the amount of blood available for the heart and makes it easier to pump blood out to the body.

The balloon is placed near the heart in a large artery called the aorta. A bedside machine inflates and deflates the balloon in rhythm with your heart. When the heart relaxes the balloon inflates to keep blood by the heart. When the heart begins to contract, the ballon deflates so that the blood can pass by the balloon to the rest of the body.

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Reasons for Procedure

An IABP is a temporary step to help stabilize someone with severe heart problems. It is used to bridge a gap until a damaged heart is able to recover function or to stabilize someone before a surgery or procedure. Situations when IABP may be needed may include:

  • Acute heart failure—weakened heart that cannot pump blood efficiently
  • Cardiogenic shock—persistent low blood pressure that lowers the amount of oxygen delivered to organs
  • A severe heart attack
  • Mitral valve regurgitation—leaking or backflow of blood in the heart from the aorta
  • Infections that affect heart function such as myocarditis
  • High-risk cardiac procedures

Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Improper balloon placement
  • Incorrect timing of the machine
  • Low blood flow to arms, legs, or feet, which can lead to tissue damage
  • Kidney damage from low blood flow
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Heart attack
  • Blood clots
  • Infection
  • Aortic tear or rupture
  • Nerve damage
  • Reaction to the dye injected through the catheter (if one is used)

Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking
  • Chronic disease such as diabetes or obesity

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Test results from previous care will be reviewed by your doctors before the procedure. If necessary new tests may be done to make sure you are an appropriate candidate for IABP.

Leading up to the procedure:

  • Talk to your doctor about your current medications. Certain medications may need to be stopped up to one week before the procedure.
  • Let your doctor know of any allergies you have.


Local anesthesia will be used at the insertion site. You may be given a sedative to help you relax before the procedure.

Description of the Procedure

An artery in the groin or arm will be selected for use. A local anesthetic will be injected into the area to numb the injection site.

An imaging device will be used during the procedure to guide the catheter, a small tube, to the appropriate place. A dye will help make clearer images. The catheter will be inserted into the artery of the leg or arm and passed through the artery until it reaches the aorta near the heart. Once the correct position is found, the balloon is passed through the catheter and placed in the correct position. The catheter is stitched at the entry point to keep it stable. A bandage is placed over the site.

The balloon catheter is connected to a bedside machine. This machine will control the inflation and deflation of the balloon in rhythm with your heart.

Immediately After Procedure

You will be taken to a recovery room and monitored.

How Long Will It Take?

About 30 minutes

How Much Will It Hurt?

Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications. The sensation of the balloon inflating and deflating will be felt.

Average Hospital Stay

The length of stay varies depending on the reason IABP is needed.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

Right after the procedure, you will be in the cardiac intensive care unit where your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing will be monitored.

Recovery may also include:

  • Pain medications
  • Antibiotics to prevent infection
  • Medication to prevent blood clots

During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping the catheter insertion site clean and covered

There are also steps you can take to reduce your chances of infection such as:

  • Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and healthcare providers to do the same
  • Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
  • Not allowing others to touch the catheter insertion site

Call Your Doctor

This procedure is done and delivered in a care setting. You will be monitored by medical staff for any complications.

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