: The intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) is the most widely available mechanical support device, but its use has been disputed in recent decades. Although several efforts have been made to reduce the associated complication rate, contemporary data on this matter is lacking. The present study aims to evaluate the differences in vascular complications between the sheathless and the sheathed IABP implantation technique in cardiac surgery patients. A retrospective multi-center cohort, consisting of patients treated in 8 cardiac surgical centers, was evaluated. Patients who underwent cardiac surgery with peri-operative IABP support were included. Primary outcome was a composite end point of vascular complications. Propensity score matching (PSM) was performed, and a multivariable regression model was applied to evaluate predictors of vascular complications. The unmatched cohort consisted of 2,615 patients (sheathless n = 1,414, 54%, sheathed n = 1,201, 46%). A total of 878 patients were matched (n = 439 for both groups). The composite vascular complication end point occurred in 3% of patients in the sheathless group, compared with 8% in the sheathed group (p <0.001). Vascular complications were significantly associated with mortality (odds ratio [OR] 3.86, 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.01 to 7.40, p <0.001). Peripheral arterial disease was associated with vascular complications (OR 3.10, 95% CI 1.46 to 6.55, p = 0.003), whereas the sheathless implantation technique was found to be protective (OR 0.36, 95% CI 0.18 to 0.73, p = 0.005). In conclusion, the present retrospective multi-center analysis demonstrated the sheathless implantation technique to be associated with a significant reduction in vascular complication rate. Future studies should focus on even less invasive implantation techniques using smaller-sized catheters, sheathless implantation, and imaging guiding.
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