Originally intended for life-saving salvage therapy, the use of temporary mechanical circulatory support (MCS) devices has become increasingly widespread in a variety of clinical settings in the contemporary era. Their use as a short-term, prophylactic support vehicle has expanded to include procedures in the catheterization laboratory, electrophysiology suite, operating room and intensive care unit. Accordingly, MCS device design and technology continue to develop at a rapid pace. In this Review, we describe the functionality, indications, management and complications associated with temporary MCS, together with scenario-specific utilization, goal-directed development and bioengineering of future devices. We address various considerations for the use of temporary MCS devices in both prophylactic and rescue scenarios, with input from stakeholders from various cardiovascular specialties, including interventional and heart failure cardiology, electrophysiology, cardiothoracic anaesthesiology, critical care and cardiac surgery.