Information for the public
ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. The ECMO machine is very similar to a heart–lung machine. An artificial lung (the membrane) oxygenates the blood outside the body (extracorporeally). A tube (cannula) is normally inserted into the right upper chamber of the heart or major vein in the neck or groin. This allows blood to divert into the ECMO machine, which removes carbon dioxide and then adds oxygen to it. The blood is then returned to the patient through another tube into the major artery going to the left side of the heart or major vein in the groin. A drug is given to stop the blood from clotting.
ECMO for acute heart failure in adults can be used after heart surgery to provide temporary support while they are moved from a heart–lung machine to a mechanical ventilator. It can also be used to support patients with severe heart failure during recovery, after a heart transplant or when having a left ventricular assist device implanted. If patients have kidney problems, the system can be adapted with a special filter so that it also removes waste products from the blood.