Learning About ECMO in Newborns

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What is ECMO?

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a treatment used for newborns with very serious lung problems. ECMO uses a machine to do the work of the lungs. Normally, all the body's organs and tissues need to take in oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide through the lungs. But when the lungs can't do this work, a doctor may use ECMO.

With ECMO, blood flows out of the baby's body into an ECMO machine. The machine takes carbon dioxide out of the blood and puts oxygen back in. Then the blood returns to the body. This treatment bypasses the lungs and allows the lungs to heal or develop. As the baby's lungs get stronger, the baby may need the ECMO machine less. A baby may need ECMO for a few days or a few weeks, depending on why the lungs aren't working well.

A baby may need ECMO because:

  • The baby's lungs are damaged from inhaling stools (meconium) in the womb before birth.
  • The baby has severe pneumonia. This is an infection in the lungs.
  • A hernia—a weak spot in the muscles—allowed organs to move up into the baby's chest. The organs can get in the way of normal lung development.

Doctors choose ECMO when other treatments for the lungs aren't working.

How is ECMO done?

The doctor places two flexible tubes into the baby's blood vessels. Blood flows out through one tube into the ECMO machine, which pumps the blood through a filter. The machine takes carbon dioxide out of the blood and puts oxygen in. Then it warms the blood back to body temperature. The blood flows back into the baby through the second tube. The blood then carries oxygen to all parts of the body.

What else should you know about ECMO?

There is a risk that the baby may have bleeding, blood clotting, infection, stroke, or developmental delays. These problems may be caused by the illness or ECMO, or both.

Dealing with severe illness and having your child on ECMO is stressful. Get support from friends and family. Ask your doctor about counselling and support groups.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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Current as of: July 26, 2016