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Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO): Uses, Procedures, Medications, and Risks

  • Posted on- Feb 27, 2017
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ECMO is an abbreviation used for extra corporeal membrane oxygenation. An ECMO machine performs the function of heart and lung by pumping and oxygenating the patient’s blood. When a patient is on ECMO machine, blood passes through a tube to an artificial lung in the machine. This synthetic lung adds the oxygen in your blood and takes out the carbon dioxide. After that, the blood is warmed to its original temperature and is pumped back to the body.

There are two types of ECMO (Extra corporeal membrane oxygenation)

VA ECMO- The VA ECMO machine is attached to both, a vein and an artery. The VA ECMO machine is usually used when there are complications with both the heart and the lungs.

VV ECMO- The VV ECMO machine is attached to the veins only, which are close to the heart. The VV ECMO machine is used when there are complications with the lungs.

Uses of ECMO

ECMO Procedure

The process of oxygenation is carried using the thin, flexible tube, known as a catheter. A minor surgical procedure is performed to insert the catheter tube into an artery or a vein. During the procedure, a patient is on intravenous sedation or general anaesthesia to subside the surgical discomfort. A diagnostic x-ray is done to make sure that the catheter is inserted into a right artery or vein. The patient on ECMO is also connected to a ventilator machine, aiding in lungs to heal faster. While you are on ECMO, your nutrition supply will be continued intravenously or through a nasal gastric tube. When your heart and lungs are healed completely, a minor surgery is again performed to remove the catheter tubes from your body and for the repairing of blood vessels. Various tests are done before taking off the patient from ECMO to ensure the patient’s heart and the lungs are working properly.

Medications on ECMO

While a patient is on ECMO, certain medications are given to prevent the side effects and reduce the painful symptoms.
  • Diuretics for the proper functioning of kidneys
  • Blood loss to substitute blood loss
  • Electrolytes for maintaining proper balance of salts and sugar in the body
  • Heparin to prevent blood clots
  • Antibiotics to prevent infection

Risks associated with ECMO

The major risks related to ECMO are:

  • Infection around the areas from where the tubes are inserted
  • Formation of small clots and air bubbles in the tubes, which are supplying oxygen. This can lead to oxygenator failure and other pulmonary disease
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Risk of stroke
  • Blood transfusion disorder


user profile image
30-12-2017 01:03 PM

This procedure is very useful as it performs the functions of heart and lung. Nice information shared.

user profile image
24-09-2017 06:13 PM

I had my breathing problem for a very long time. Then, I decided to have ECMO which had further resulted in my betterment.

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