Objectives: To evaluate the results of treatment of severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), minimal sedation, and pressure supported ventilation.
Design and setting: Observational study in a tertiary referral center, Intensive Care Unit, Astrid Lindgren Children's Hospital at Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.
Subjects and methods: Seventeen adult patients with ARDS were treated with venovenous or venoarterial ECMO after failure of conventional therapy. The Murray score of pulmonary injury averaged 3.5 (3.0-4.0) and the mean PaO2/FIO2 ratio was 46 (31-65). A standard ECMO circuit with nonheparinized surfaces was used. The patients were minimally sedated and received pressure-supported ventilation. High inspiratory pressures were avoided and arterial saturation as low as 70% was accepted on venovenous bypass.
Results: In one patient a stable bypass could not be established. Among the remaining 16 patients 13 survived (total survival rate 76%) after 3-52 days (mean 15) on bypass. Major surgical procedures were performed in several patients. The cause of death in the three nonsurvivors was intracranial complications leading to total cerebral infarction.
Conclusion: A high survival rate can be obtained in adult patients with severe ARDS using ECMO and pressure-supported ventilation with minimal sedation. Surgical complications are amenable to surgical treatment during ECMO. Bleeding problems can generally be controlled but require immediate and aggressive approach. It is difficult or impossible to decide when a lung disease is irreversible, and prolonged ECMO treatment may be successful even in the absence of any detectable lung function.