Coronavirus: What is ECMO technique that is used for patients with extremely damaged lungs

Apart from being used for Coronavirus patients, the ECMO technique is also used for patients undergoing heart or lung transplant. (Credit: Thinkstock Images)

In the past few weeks as the severe cases of Coronavirus suddenly increased, patients who are facing acute Oxygen shortage problems have been treated with a range of treatments. One such clinical intervention resorted to by doctors in extreme cases is ECMO or extracorporeal membrane oxygen. When the patients fail to respond to mechanical ventilation through ventilator and outside Oxygen support, doctors use the ECMO technique to resuscitate severely ill patients, the Indian Express reported.

What is ECMO technique?
The ECMO which consists of an artificial heart and an artificial pair of lungs works from outside the body and adds needed Oxygen to the blood and removes the Carbon dioxide in return. The ECMO technique, which was originally developed in the 1960s to help infants suffering from respiratory distress syndrome, only started getting used for the treatment of adult patients about five years ago.

How does ECMO technique work?
A tube connecting the artificial organs is inserted into a large vein, neck, chest or groin of the patient. The tube facilitates the movement of the patient’s blood to the artificial oxygenator outside. While Carbon dioxide is removed from the blood, Oxygen is added to the blood which is pumped back to the patient’s body. It is to be kept in mind that the ECMO technique is one of the last options before the doctors when every other possible option has been ruled out. Apart from being used for Coronavirus patients, the ECMO technique is also used for patients undergoing heart or lung transplant.

Are there risks involved with ECMO technique?
One of the major risks associated with the ECMO technique is chances of severe bleeding. Since the patients are provided with the blood thinning medicine before being put on the ECMO technique, the patients run the risk of severe bleeding from different parts of the body. Moreover, a number of patients on ECMO technique fail to provide enough blood flow to their kidneys through the artificial technique and this might lead to kidney failure. The kidney failure in clinical terms is known as acute renal failure.

As external tubes enter the very deep of the patient’s body, the risk of infection is also very high in the body. The outside germs can find easy passage into the body of the patient with the help of the external tubes. The already depressed immunity further increases the chances of severe infection.

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