In-hospital and late complications related to percutaneous placement of 240 intraaortic balloon pump catheters in 231 consecutive patients from March 1985 through June 1990 were reviewed. Mean age was 64 +/- 11 years and 34% were women. Average duration of counterpulsation was 44.2 hours. Indications for counterpulsation included complications of myocardial infarction (34.6%), prophylactic placement before high-risk coronary angioplasty (20.0%) or open heart surgery (12.9%), complicated coronary angioplasty (18.3%), end-stage cardiomyopathy (5.4%) and miscellaneous (8.8%). Early major complications occurred in 11 cases (4.6%) and included limb ischemia requiring surgery (n = 9), bleeding requiring arterial repair (n = 1) and septicemia (n = 1). Other complications included hematoma requiring transfusion (n = 7), limb ischemia resolving with balloon catheter removal (n = 12), and superficial wound infection (n = 1). Overall in-hospital complication rate was 13% (31 of 240). Peripheral vascular disease and diabetes were found to be significant predictors of limb ischemia (p = 0.01 and p = 0.02, respectively). Follow-up information was obtained in 97% of patients with a mean duration of 19 months: 2 patients (1.1%) required vascular surgery for femoral false aneurysms and 1 patient experienced new onset of claudication. In conclusion, compared with previous experience, contemporary intraaortic balloon counterpulsation with percutaneous placement of smaller size (8.5Fr to 10.5Fr) catheters is associated with improved complication profile. This will further enhance the current trend for an expanding role of intraaortic balloon counterpulsation in complex interventional procedures.