Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is ECMO?

It is an acronym derived from the lengthy term, Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation.

Term that refers to therapy that substitutes for the body’s lung and/or heart function by continuously removing the patient’s blood from her/his body, removing carbon dioxide and adding oxygen to it, and returning the modified blood back to the body., thereby ensuring that the patient’s vital organs continue to function.

What is ECMO used for?

ECMO is usually used in patients who have severe lung failure, heart failure or both heart and lung failure.

Patients may suffer lung failure from:

  • pneumonia
  • a drowning episode
  • trauma to the chest
  • severe asthma
  • other respiratory illnesses

Patients’ hearts can lose the ability to pump blood effectively to the body due to:

  • infections to the heart muscle
  • abnormal rhythms
  • drug overdose
  • transplant rejection
  • other conditions

Typically, these patients’ lungs or hearts are so sick that ventilators (breathing machines) or cardiac medications or pacemakers can no longer support them. The ECMO circuit then takes over their respiratory function with an artificial lung, assumes the heart’s job of pumping oxygenated blood to the body, or often carries out both tasks simultaneously. Usually ECMO is used to treat a patient until her/his lungs and heart recover from a reversible illness. Occasionally, though, ECMO has been used to support patients with irreversible lung or heart disease until they can undergo transplantation or have a long-term mechanical device, such as a ventricular assist device, placed.