Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump (IABP)

An intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) is a device that aids the heart in pumping more blood to other parts of the body when the heart is weak. It is a long, slender balloon that is inserted into the aorta (largest blood vessel in the body) to control the flow of blood. The device gets smaller when the heart pumps so that blood can flow out to the rest of the body. It gets bigger when the heart relaxes so that more blood is retained in the heart.

A patient may be recommended an IABP if their heart isn’t getting enough blood or if it isn’t sending enough blood out to the rest of the body. This is called cardiogenic shock and occurs when the heart is weak or because of other heart problems like arrhythmia, myocarditis. The balloon device is placed in the heart for only a short period of time.

How does it work?

The IABP is attached to a tube called a catheter. This catheter and balloon is inserted into an artery in the legs and an X-ray camera is used to move it up to the aorta. The device is hooked up to a machine that sends signals to the balloon about when to inflate and when to deflate. Helium is the gas used to blow up the balloon.

Who needs IABP therapy?

IABP therapy is used to treat cardiogenic shock. Some heart problems can cause cardiogenic shock. These include:

  • Unstable angina
  • Heart attack
  • Certain abnormal heart rhythms
  • Heart failure
  • Heart defects

In certain situations, one might not be eligible for an IABP. For example, a person with a leaky aortic valve can’t safely use an IABP.

What are the risks of IABP therapy?

IABP therapy can be very helpful but it does have some risks.

  • Damage from the lack of blood flow to any of the limbs
  • Injury to an artery
  • Rupture of the balloon
  • Incorrect position of the balloon, which might cause injury to the kidneys or other problems
  • Low platelet count, which might cause excess bleeding
  • Infection
  • Stroke
  • Age and any other medical conditions are also contributors.
What happens after IABP therapy?

A patient on IABP therapy is monitored by the doctor. They may temporarily turn the pump off to see how the patient responds. If the heart continues to pump well on its own, IABP therapy may be halted. Also, if another intervention becomes available (like a donated heart).

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