Objective: To comprehensively assess published peer-reviewed studies related to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), focusing on outcomes and complications of ECMO in adult patients.
Design: Systematic review and meta-analysis.
Data sources: MEDLINE/PubMed was searched for articles on complications and mortality occurring during or after ECMO.
Data extraction: Included studies had more than 100 patients receiving ECMO and reported in detail fatal or nonfatal complications occurring during or after ECMO. Primary outcome was mortality at the longest follow-up available; secondary outcomes were fatal and non-fatal complications.
Data synthesis: Twelve studies were included (1763 patients), mostly reporting on venoarterial ECMO. Criteria for applying ECMO were variable, but usually comprised acute respiratory failure, cardiogenic shock or both. After a median follow-up of 30 days (1st-3rd quartile, 30-68 days), overall mortality was 54% (95% CI, 47%-61%), with 45% (95% CI, 42%-48%) of fatal events occurring during ECMO and 13% (95% CI, 11%-15%) after it. The most common complications associated with ECMO were: renal failure requiring continuous venovenous haemofiltration (occurring in 52%), bacterial pneumonia (33%), any bleeding (33%), oxygenator dysfunction requiring replacement (29%), sepsis (26%), haemolysis (18%), liver dysfunction (16%), leg ischaemia (10%), venous thrombosis (10%), central nervous system complications (8%), gastrointestinal bleeding (7%), aspiration pneumonia (5%), and disseminated intravascular coagulation (5%).
Conclusions: Even with conditions usually associated with a high chance of death, almost 50% of patients receiving ECMO survive up to discharge. Complications are frequent and most often comprise renal failure, pneumonia or sepsis, and bleeding.