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COVID-19 – ECMO Overview

April 4, 2021


So what exactly is extra corporeal membrane oxygenation or ECMO? ECMO is a form of respiratory support reserved for the sickest patients with respiratory failure. The cause of the respiratory failure could be really anything. It could be COVID-19 infection, could be any other cause, again, the cause doesn't matter, this is just a form of support for the sickest patients. In ECMO support, what happens is blood is removed through a large catheter out of the central vein of the body into the membrane device. That membrane device, which is situated outside of the body, then inserts oxygen into the blood that has been removed and removes carbon dioxide. This completely replaces the function of the natural lung itself. This fresh blood then, after it receives oxygen and after removing carbon dioxide, is then inserted back into the body via another large catheter into the central vein. And then that fresh blood is then pumped throughout the body to meet the oxygenation needs. So it's important to realize that ECMO is reserved for the sickest patients with respiratory failure. Most patients fortunately will turn around and recover with mechanical ventilation alone. If ECMO is actually needed for a patient, that means their risk of dying and their survival rate is significantly decreased in the patient who does not need ECMO support. ECMO is only offered at very select specialized centers throughout the United States.

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