The timing of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) initiation and its outcome in the management of respiratory and cardiac failure have received considerable attention, but very little attention has been given to mechanical ventilation during ECMO. Mechanical ventilation settings in non-ECMO studies have been shown to have an effect on survival and may also have contributed to a treatment effect in ECMO trials. Protective lung ventilation strategies established for non-ECMO-supported respiratory failure patients may not be optimal for more severe forms of respiratory failure requiring ECMO support. The influence of positive end-expiratory pressure on the reduction of the left ventricular compliance may be a matter of concern for patients receiving ECMO support for cardiac failure. The objectives of this review were to describe potential mechanisms for lung injury during ECMO for respiratory or cardiac failure, to assess the possible benefits from the use of ultra-protective lung ventilation strategies and to review published guidelines and expert opinions available on mechanical ventilation-specific management of patients requiring ECMO, including mode and ventilator settings. Articles were identified through a detailed search of PubMed, Ovid, Cochrane databases and Google Scholar. Additional references were retrieved from the selected studies. Growing evidence suggests that mechanical ventilation settings are important in ECMO patients to minimize further lung damage and improve outcomes. An ultra-protective ventilation strategy may be optimal for mechanical ventilation during ECMO for respiratory failure. The effects of airway pressure on right and left ventricular afterload should be considered during venoarterial ECMO support of cardiac failure. Future studies are needed to better understand the potential impact of invasive mechanical ventilation modes and settings on outcomes.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01470703.