Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation is a technique used in intensive care when a patient is suffering from potentially reversible failure of the heart or lungs. Blood is removed from the body (either from an artery or a vein), the carbon dioxide is removed and it is then re-oxyenated and returned to the body. Once solely used on children and infants, it is increasingly being used on adults. It is a treatment of last resort when a patient cannot be sustained on a respirator.
Despite the extreme nature of the treatment, is is very successful where, otherwise, death would almost be certain. In adults, it is successful about 55% of the time, and that figure increases to over 75% for newborns. However, the procedure should only be attempted by a person who is fully trained in the procedure.
It is generally not used when other conditions would result in a poor outcome even if the patient recovers, such as a terminal illness or multi-system failure.
The patient must be continually monitored throughout the procedure and, once it is initiated, the patient must be slowly weaned off the treatment so that their own organs can recover. Patients are given heparin to prevent clots, which means that the patient must be monitored for possible bleeding. In addition, the patient is usually given copious amounts of fluids during the procedure and their urine output must be monitored, although dialysis can be used if necessary.