Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump

An intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) is a device that controls blood flow from your heart. It deflates when your heart pumps blood out and inflates when your heart rests between beats. You may use an IABP when you’re recovering from heart surgery or after a cardiac event. Most people only need to use the device for a few days.


What is an intra-aortic balloon pump?

An intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) is a device that helps your heart pump more blood. It looks like a long, skinny balloon and inflates and deflates.

An IABP stays in place for only a few days. Healthcare providers typically use the device when you’re in the hospital after a surgery or cardiac event.

What does an intra-aortic balloon pump do?

Typically, when your heart contracts, it sends blood out through the rest of your body. When your heart relaxes, it fills with blood. An IABP helps your heart contract and relax when it’s unable to do so on its own.

How does an intra-aortic balloon pump work?

An intra-aortic balloon pump deflates when your heart pumps blood out, then inflates when your heart relaxes. It connects to a machine that tells it when to deflate and inflate.

Deflation helps pump blood throughout your body. The inflation helps improve circulation to your heart and to veins and arteries in your arms, legs, hands and feet.

What is an intra-aortic pump used for?

Your healthcare provider may recommend an IABP if your heart isn’t pumping enough blood through your circulatory system (cardiogenic shock). Cardiogenic shock may develop because of:

Some people may need an IABP after heart procedures such as a percutaneous coronary intervention for a blocked artery.

Who shouldn’t get an intra-aortic balloon pump?

Some people aren’t good candidates for an IABP, including those with:

Where is an intra-aortic balloon pump placed?

Your healthcare provider places the IABP in your aorta, the large artery carrying blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Specifically, they place the device in the thoracic aorta, the part of the artery that runs through your chest.

Why is helium used in intra-aortic balloon pumps?

An intra-aortic balloon pump connects to a machine that tells it when to inflate and deflate. The machine sends out small bursts of helium to blow up the balloon. IABPs use helium because helium doesn’t cause complications or damage to your body if it leaks out of the pump.


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Procedure Details

What happens before intra-aortic balloon pump placement?

If you’re already in cardiac surgery when your healthcare provider places the IABP, you’ll be asleep for the procedure. Otherwise, your provider may give you numbing medicine (local anesthesia) to reduce the chance of pain during the procedure.

What happens during intra-aortic balloon pump placement?

During an intra-aortic balloon pump placement, your healthcare provider:

  1. Inserts a hollow tube called a catheter into an artery in your leg.
  2. Threads the balloon through the catheter.
  3. Uses X-ray imaging to guide the balloon and catheter up to your aorta.
  4. Attaches the intra-aortic balloon pump to a machine that tells the balloon when to inflate and deflate.

What happens after intra-aortic balloon pump placement?

You may feel some chest pain during the IABP placement. Pain should go away within a few minutes.

You’ll stay in bed with your head slightly elevated while the IABP is in place. The catheter will remain in your leg. You’ll need to keep your leg straight to prevent the balloon from moving out of position.

Usually, your provider gives you a medication called heparin after placing an intra-aortic balloon pump. Heparin is a blood thinner that helps prevent blood clots from forming.

Risks / Benefits

What are the advantages of an intra-aortic balloon pump?

An intra-aortic balloon pump may save your life. If your heart is in cardiogenic shock, an IABP can ensure that your body gets enough blood.


What are the risks of an intra-aortic balloon pump?

Your risks depend on multiple factors, including your age and overall health. In general, the risks of an intra-aortic balloon pump may include:

  • Balloon rupture, which could lead to blood clots.
  • Excessive bleeding.
  • Incorrect balloon positioning, which could lead to a kidney injury or other problems.
  • Infection.
  • Injury to an artery.

Recovery and Outlook

What is the recovery time after an intra-aortic balloon pump placement?

Most people stay on an intra-aortic balloon pump for a few days. Your provider may temporarily stop the pump after a few days to see how your heart responds. If your heart pumps blood well on its own, your provider may remove the pump.

In severe cases, you may need to keep using the IABP until another option is available, such as a donor heart for a transplant.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider if you experience any signs of infection or complications after a heart procedure, including:

Additional Common Questions

How long can an intra-aortic balloon pump stay in?

An intra-aortic balloon pump usually only stays in place for a few days. However, your provider may keep it in place for up to 30 days, or sometimes longer.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

An intra-aortic balloon pump is a device that controls blood flow through your heart. Your healthcare provider may use an IABP after heart surgery or if you’re in cardiogenic shock. The pump usually stays in place for only a few days. An IABP can be a lifesaving treatment as it keeps blood flowing throughout your body.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/18/2022.

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