Background: Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) may be urgently used as a last resort form of life support when all other treatment options for potentially reversible cardiopulmonary injury have failed.
Objective: To examine the range and frequency of neurological injury in ECMO-treated adults.
Design: Retrospective clinicopathological cohort study.
Setting: Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.
Patients: A prospectively collected registry of all patients 15 years or older treated with ECMO for 12 or more hours from January 2002 to April 2010.
Intervention: Patients were analyzed for potential risk factors for neurological events and death using logistic regression and Cox proportional hazards models.
Main outcome measures: Neurological diagnosis and/or death.
Results: A total of 87 adults were treated (35 female [40%]; median age, 54 years [interquartile range, 31]; mean duration of ECMO, 91 hours [interquartile range, 100]; overall survival >7 days after ECMO, 52%). Neurological events occurred in 42 patients who received ECMO (50%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 39%-61%). Diagnoses included subarachnoid hemorrhage, ischemic watershed infarctions, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, unexplained coma, and brain death. Death in patients who received ECMO who did not require antecedent cardiopulmonary resuscitation was associated with increased age (odds ratio, 1.24 per decade; 95% CI, 1.03-1.50; P = .02) and lower minimum arterial oxygen pressure (odds ratio, 0.79; 95% CI, 0.68-0.92; P = .03). Although stroke was rarely diagnosed clinically, 9 of 10 brains studied at autopsy demonstrated hypoxic-ischemic and hemorrhagic lesions of vascular origin.
Conclusion: Severe neurological sequelae occur frequently in adult ECMO-treated patients with otherwise reversible cardiopulmonary injury (conservative estimate, 50%) and include a range of potentially fatal neurological diagnoses that may be due to the precipitating event and/or ECMO treatment.