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:
Doctors choose ECMO when other treatments for the lungs aren't working.
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.
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
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Current as of:
July 26, 2016
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
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