The Swan-Ganz catheters: past, present, and future. A viewpoint

Circulation. 2009 Jan 6;119(1):147-52. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.811141.


The Swan-Ganz balloon flotation catheter was introduced in 1970. It can be placed at the bedside within a few minutes even in critically ill patients. Although placement of these catheters is not difficult, some training and experience are required to avoid complications and for proper interpretation of the hemodynamic data that can be obtained by pulmonary artery catheterization. Because of the many advantages of balloon flotation catheters compared with conventional catheters, they have been used without a proper indication and frequently overused in critical care units, resulting in many complications, including mortality. The prospective randomized trials have reported that in the majority of clinical circumstances, the routine use of balloon flotation catheters is not indicated. These results are not surprising because balloon flotation catheters are diagnostic and not therapeutic tools. That we have learned a great deal about hemodynamics in critically ill patients with the use of balloon flotation catheters should not be ignored or forgotten. Furthermore, our clinical knowledge of hemodynamics has been made possible because of extensive experience gained from directly determined hemodynamics with the use of balloon flotation catheters. It should also be realized that despite the introduction and refinement of newer noninvasive imaging modalities, a number of clinical circumstances exist in which determination of hemodynamics with the use of a balloon flotation catheter is necessary and should be considered, but only by experienced physicians. With the proper use of Swan-Ganz catheters, our knowledge of hemodynamics has been enhanced considerably. Its abuse, particularly by relatively inexperienced operators, has resulted in serious complications, including death. Prospective randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that the routine use of Swan-Ganz catheters does not provide any benefit. However, use of the Swan-Ganz catheter is still indicated in many situations.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Catheterization, Swan-Ganz / history*
  • Catheterization, Swan-Ganz / methods
  • Catheterization, Swan-Ganz / trends
  • Heart Diseases / diagnosis
  • Heart Diseases / history*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / history*