What is ECMO?
ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) is a type of life support used after medicine and a breathing machine (ventilator) have failed to help a patient improve.
The ECMO machine works for the heart and lungs. It is the same heart/lung machine used for open-heart surgery. When patients are placed on ECMO, blood flows through the ECMO tubing, where it receives oxygen from the machine’s lung until the heart and/or lungs are able to work on their own.
Types of ECMO
There are two types of ECMO: VA and VV. The terms VA and VV refer to the blood vessels used in the treatment.
- In VA ECMO, a tube is placed in both a vein and an artery. VA is used when there are problems with both the heart and lung. It helps the heart and lungs to rest and get better.
- In VV ECMO, one or more tubes are placed in a vein. VV is used when there are lung problems only.
- Bleeding may occur because the blood must be kept from clotting in the tubing. A drug called heparin is given to prevent clots. If the bleeding increases, patients may need surgery and the ECMO therapy may need to be stopped.
- Infection: This is a risk any time a tube is placed in the body, especially a blood vessel. Antibiotics will be given, if needed.
- Transfusions: A patient on ECMO will need blood products. The blood used from the blood bank is checked for both hepatitis and AIDS; however, no test is 100 percent accurate. When blood is given there is a risk of side effects, including small clots or air bubbles which may affect other parts of the body.
- Stroke: The carotid artery, which takes blood to the brain, is tied off when the patient is taken off VA ECMO. The long-term risks of doing this are not known, so an increased risk of stroke may occur as the person ages.
Extracorporeal Life Support Organization