What is ECMO? How does it work?

ECMO - ExtraCorporeal Membrane Oxygenation. It is a life-support machine that bypasses heart and lung operations.

What does ECMO mean?

 "Extracorporeal” means outside the body “Membrane” refers to the mechanical lungs “Oxygenation” is the process of removing the carbon-dioxide in the blood and putting oxygen into the blood. So ECMO means the process of circulating and oxygenating the blood outside the body of the patient.

When does one need ECMO?

  When a cardiac arrest patient does not respond to any conventional treatment offered, then ECMO is made to take over the workload of both heart and lungs.

How ECMO works?

 ECMO Machine Functionality - Impure blood rich in carbon dioxide is drained from the veins, the carbon dioxide is removed externally by the machine, the required oxygen is added and further the pure blood is warmed to body temperature before pumping it back into an artery. Thus ECMO bypasses the functions performed by both Heart and Lungs.

How long does one need ECMO?

  • A patient can be on ECMO for several hours to few weeks. 
  • ECMO is not a healing procedure. It merely takes over the function of heart and lungs, thus allowing them to rest and recover. 
  • When the heart and the lungs of the patient are healthy enough to function on their own, ECMO support can be gradually removed.