Extracorporeal Membrane
Oxygenation (ECMO) 

What is ECMO?

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) provides life support for patients with respiratory (lung) or heart failure. It’s an advanced form of life support for the most critically ill and injured patients and is only available at hospitals with the highest levels of intensive care. The ECMO program at Emory Healthcare is the premier program in the Southeastern United States.

How ECMO Works

Every cell in your body relies on oxygen. In heart or respiratory failure — or other conditions — your body may not be able to keep your blood oxygen levels steady. Without enough oxygen, your organs can fail. ECMO is a life-saving machine that works as both your heart and your lungs. It keeps your blood temperature and oxygen levels steady when your body cannot.

ECMO pumps your blood into a machine that adds oxygen, removes carbon dioxide, and warms your blood to the appropriate temperature. ECMO then pumps your blood back into your body providing life-sustaining circulation. 

Types of ECMO

ECMO gives your heart and lungs time to heal until they can work again on their own or provides additional critical time to stabilize a patient for definitive surgical intervention. Veno-venous or VV ECMO takes over the work for sick or failing lungs. Veno-arterial or VA ECMO takes over the work for sick or failing hearts.

ECMO may be utilized in lung conditions, including:

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Acute episodes of asthma
  • Acute and chronic pulmonary thromboembolic disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Trauma, including direct injury to the lungs
  • While awaiting lung transplantation

ECMO may be utilized in heart conditions, including:

  • Acute and chronic pulmonary thromboembolic disease (pulmonary embolism)
  • Cardiogenic shock
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Myocarditis
  • Peripartum cardiomyopathy
  • Post cardiotomy shock – failure to wean from cardiopulmonary bypass during cardiac surgery
  • Trauma, including direct injury to the heart
  • Drug intoxication
  • Intractable cardiac arrhythmias
  • While awaiting heart transplantation or LVAD