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What is ECMO?

how ECMO works

An illustration of how ECMO works.
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ECMO works as an artificial lung by delivering oxygen to the patient when the lungs are unable to do so.

With most approaches to ECMO for respiratory failure, a catheter is placed in a central vein, usually near the heart. A mechanical pump pulls blood into the circuit, where the blood passes along a membrane (referred to as an "oxygenator" or "gas exchanger"), providing an interface between the blood and freshly delivered oxygen. Veno-venous ECMO provides respiratory support alone, while veno-arterial ECMO provides both respiratory and cardiac support. Examples of scenarios where ECMO may benefit patients include the following:

ECMO with single site cannulation.

ECMO with single site cannulation.
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ECMO with two site cannulation.

ECMO with two site cannulation.
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  • If a patient has life-threatening acute respiratory failure with profound gas exchange abnormalities, ECMO may be used as salvage therapy to rescue the patient.
  • ECMO may also be used in patients with ARDS who would benefit from lung-protective ventilation strategies but who are unable to tolerate such strategies.
  • ECMO is used in select patients with severe hypercarbic respiratory failure (levels of carbon dioxide in the blood that are too high).
  • ECMO may be used in patients with chronic lung disease who are already listed for lung transplantation at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia. This approach is called "bridge-to-transplantation."


Center for Acute Respiratory Care

If you are a physician, please contact 1.800.NYP.STAT (1.800.697.7828) to have your patient transferred.

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