We’ve updated our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use this Service, you acknowledge you’ve read the updated Privacy Policy.

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

All About Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

ECMO Can Help Sustain Life

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation is a common treatment in COVID-19, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and other critical care situations. ECMO can help patients heal by giving their heart and lungs valuable time to rest.

What Is ECMO?

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) uses a manmade heart and lung to support the body when a person’s own organs are too sick to do the job.

Extracorporeal means “outside the body.” ECMO lets blood flow outside the body through tubing to an artificial lung. The artificial lung adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide. The blood is then warmed and pumped back into the patient.

When Is ECMO Used?

ECMO may support the body for days or weeks while allowing the heart and lungs time to rest. Although ECMO may not cure the patient, it gives him or her a chance to heal.

ECMO may be an option after the care team has tried all other treatments, such as a breathing machine (called a ventilator, or “vent”), medicines to support the heart and lungs, or special gases to relax the blood vessels between the heart and lungs.

When Should ECMO End?

Once the heart or lungs have healed enough to support the body’s needs, the patient may be taken off ECMO. However, if the doctors realize ECMO is not helping the patient get better, or if continuing ECMO may harm the patient, then ECMO support will be removed.

Read Coming Off ECMO to learn more

What Is ECLS?

Extracorporeal life support (ECLS) is used when a patient experiences heart or lung failure and isn’t responding to conventional therapies, such as a ventilator.

The term ECLS is used interchangeably with ECMO because ECLS often involves the continuous extracorporeal oxygenation of blood pumped from the body.

ECMO Resources

To learn more about extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, check out these helpful ECMO resources. Some were compiled using data from our extensive ECMO Registry.


ECMO Outcome Prediction Scores

ECMO Team Explanations

Coming Off of ECMO

ECMO Specialist Training Manual

Contact Us About ECMO

If you have questions about ECMO or want to know more, call our ELSO office at 1-734-293-2101 or contact us online.