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ECMO in Covid-19 care

Date: 22 May 2021 Tags: Miscellaneous


A new clinical intervention known as ECMO has been employed by doctors to treat Covid-19 patients suffering from acute shortage of oxygen.



Whenever the oxygen concentration falls below a certain threshold, mechanical ventilation in form of ventilators are employed.



  • Some patients are not able to respond to ventilator treatment as their heart and lungs become too weak to indulge in normal exchange of gases.

  • Doctors use extracorporeal membrane oxygen or ECMO in such extreme cases to act as artificial lung and heart to exchange carbon dioxide in blood with fresh oxygen.

  • The ECMO technique was originally used for infants with cardiac abnormalities and respiratory distress syndrome but now has been used for adults as well.

  • In ECMO, a plastic tube is inserted into the large vein or artery through chest, neck or groin of the patient. The blood will then flow into an oxygenarator or artificial lung.

  • The oxygenarator machines adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide from the blood and send back the blood into the body through different tube with same frequency and force as the heart.

  • This technique is the last available option when the patient’s lung cannot get rid of carbon dioxide or the heart is too weak for pumping blood.


Use in Covid-19 patients

  • In Covid-19 condition, the infection spreads to all five lobes of the lung. During such as condition, the patient cannot properly exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen.

  • Due to increase in carbon dioxide concentration the blood will turn acidic. The brain will instruct lungs to breathe more but it will be unable to perform function.

  • The ECMO takes the load off from body of seriously ill patients and gives their body time to recover from the infection without affecting its function.

  • ECMO has also shown to reduce the chances of cytokine storm that has been the major reason for death in Covid-19 patients.


Risks involved

  • Patients will be on blood thinning medication during their stay on ECMO. This could lead to multiple bleeding from body.

  • Kidneys of patients on ECMO can get affected due to lack of blood flow. This is known as renal failure.

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