Percutaneous placement of an intra-aortic balloon (IAB) through a femoral artery of a patient is associated with a risk of reduction of blood flow distal to the balloon insertion site. If this reduction is severe, it ultimately causes limb ischemia and necessitates IAB removal. Although clinicians intuitively know that larger catheters cause higher flow restrictions, very few studies have examined this situation quantitatively. The authors theoretically analyzed the insertion site geometry in relationship to the catheter diameter and other factors effecting distal flow. To verify the findings, in vitro flow tests were conducted with various IAB catheters currently available on the market, as well as their respective sheaths and hemostasis plugs. This was done using a blood analog solution in an array of polyvinyl chloride tubing sizes. Diameters of the vessel and catheter have a profound and nonlinear effect on the distal flow. For example, a 12.2 Fr catheter in a 0.187 in. vessel only allows 19.9% of normal flow, whereas a 6.1 Fr catheter in the same size vessel allows a 92.0% flow. As the catheter diameter increases, the physical resistance suddenly grows, which causes a significant drop in distal flow. These results are accurately predicted by a mathematical model that gives flow percentage results to within 15% of those measured experimentally. In general, vessels larger than 5 mm in diameter do not exhibit substantial flow reduction for most lABs with and without sheaths. In smaller vessels, however, this reduction may be significant. Sheathless insertion is extremely effective in improving distal blood flow in such a situation. Hemostasis plugs restrict the distal flow similar to respective sheaths, thus diminishing the benefits of sheathless insertion.