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Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) in adults

Jonathan Haft, MD
Robert Bartlett, MD
Section Editor
Polly E Parsons, MD
Deputy Editor
Geraldine Finlay, MD


Mechanical cardiopulmonary support is most often applied intraoperatively to facilitate cardiac surgery (ie, cardiopulmonary bypass). However, cardiopulmonary support can also be delivered in a more prolonged fashion in an intensive care unit, although it is less common.

Prolonged cardiopulmonary support is called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), extracorporeal life support, or extracorporeal lung assist. There are two types of ECMO – venoarterial (VA) and venovenous (VV). Both provide respiratory support, but only VA ECMO provides hemodynamic support.

The impact of ECMO on clinical outcomes as well as patient selection, technical aspects, and complications will be reviewed here. Only adult applications are discussed.


Survival — The survival of patients undergoing ECMO can be categorized according to the indication for the ECMO: severe acute respiratory failure or cardiac failure.

Acute respiratory failure — Multiple studies have evaluated the effect of ECMO on mortality in patients with severe acute respiratory failure [1-11]:


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Literature review current through: Apr 2016. | This topic last updated: Aug 28, 2015.
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