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What is ECMO?
Like dialysis for unfunctional kidney, Ecmo for unfunctional lung.
Ecmo stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. It is a method of giving oxygen for the body when icu pateint lungs and/or heart are not able to supply oxygen on their own.
Why ICU pateint put on ECMO?
Doctors place ICU patients on ECMO when patients are not able to supply oxygen to the body.
ICU patients’ lungs fail for a number of reasons including pneumonia, lung cancer, pulmonary edema, pulmonary embolism and COPD.
When a patient’s lungs fail, he/she first is intubated (breathing tube) and hooked up to a ventilator (breathing machine).
However, sometimes lungs are so damaged that providing oxygen through intubation is not enough.
This is when doctors turn to v-v ecmo.
A heart can fail for many reasons including heart attack, pulmonary embolism, bad valve disease, or worsening heart failure. When a heart fails, doctors try to fix the underlying problem. They may also start medications (called ionotropes) to help improve the pump function of the heart. If medications are not enough, doctors will turn to v-a ecmo.
How long can someone stay on ecmo?
That is a complicated question. Due to the risks of ecmo discussed above, doctors try to keep patients on ecmo for as short a time as possible. Often patient will be on ecmo for several days up to 1-2 weeks. Every day, several blood and imaging tests are done to determine if a patient is ready to come off ecmo. As the technology of ecmo improves, hopefully side effects will decrease and patients can remain on ecmo for longer periods of time.
What is the difference between ecmo and a ventilator (breathing machine)?
Both ecmo and a ventilator aim to provide oxygen to the body when the patient’s own lungs and breathing are failing. The ventilator assists the patient’s own lungs by pushing oxygen with pressure into the lungs. Ecmo instead provides oxygen directly via a catheter placed in a patient’s vein or artery. We almost always try oxygenating a patient with a ventilator first. However, when a patient’s lungs are too sick for this, we turn to ecmo to assist in providing oxygen to the body. V-v ecmo provides oxygen through a vein. This blood then has to travel to the heart and be pumped around the rest of the body through arteries. Therefore, with v-v ecmo or with a ventilator, a patient must have a well-functioning heart to get the oxygen pumped throughout the body. V-a ecmo has the additional advantage of pumping blood directly to arteries. This “by-passes” the heart and is therefore the method of ecmo we use when a patient’s heart is failing.