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Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation

Overview :

There are two types of ECMO: Venoarterial (V-A) ECMO supports the heart and lungs, and is used for patients with blood pressure or heart functioning problems in addition to respiratory problems. Venovenous (V-V) ECMO supports the lungs only.

V-A ECMO requires the insertion of two tubes, one in the jugular and one in the carotid artery. In the V-V ECMO procedure, the surgeon places a plastic tube into the jugular vein through a small incision in the neck.

Once in place, the tubes are connected to the ECMO circuit, and then the machine is turned on. The patient's blood flows out through the tube and may look very dark because it contains very little oxygen. A pump pushes the blood through an artificial membrane lung, where oxygen is added and carbon dioxide is removed. The size of the artificial lung depends on the size of the patient; sometimes adults need two lungs. The blood is then warmed and returned to the patient. A steady amount of blood (called the flow rate) is pushed through the ECMO machine every minute. As the patient improves, the flow rate is lowered.

Many patients require heavy sedation while they are on ECMO to lessen the amount of oxygen needed by the muscles.

As the patient improves, the amount of ECMO support will be decreased gradually, until the machine is turned off for a brief trial period. If the patient does well without ECMO, the treatment is stopped.

Typically, newborns remain on ECMO for three to seven days, although some babies need more time (especially if they have a diaphragmatic hernia). Once the baby is off ECMO, he or she will still need a ventilator (breathing machine) for a few days or weeks. Adults may remain on ECMO for days to weeks, depending on the condition of the patient, but treatment may be continued for a longer time depending on the type of heart or lung disease, the amount of damage to the lungs before ECMO was begun, and the presence of any other illnesses or health problems.

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