TUESDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- The extent of heart muscle damage in heart attack patients isn't reduced by inserting a balloon pump into the aorta -- the body's main artery from the heart -- before performing a surgery to clear clogged blood vessels known as angioplasty, a new study finds.

The balloon pump, or intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP), is designed to increase blood supply to the heart in order to reduce its workload. Animal studies have suggested this emergency measure -- generally temporary -- might reduce the amount of heart muscle damage caused by a heart attack, but Duke University Medical Center researchers found that's not the case in humans.

Their study compared 161 heart attack patients with the most serious kind of heart attack (known as a STEMI) who received a balloon pump prior to angioplasty and 176 patients who had angioplasty without such therapy.

There was no significant difference in the amount of heart muscle damage between the two groups.

The group who received the balloon pump had more short-term medical complications, including major bleeding and vascular problems, than the control group receiving standard care.

However, at six months, only three patients (1.9 percent) who underwent the balloon pump procedure had died, compared with nine of the group (5.2 percent) who received standard care.

Although the study was not designed to examine clinical outcomes, the researchers were pleased with the low mortality rate (under 5 percent) in the group that received the intra-aortic balloon pump therapy.

"While routine use of IABC is not recommended, physicians should be vigilant about identifying patients who are at risk for rapid deterioration and may benefit from [it]," said cardiologist and principal investigator Dr. Manesh Patel in a Duke University news release.

The study was published online August 30 in the Journal of the American Medical Society and presented at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about heart attack treatment.