Massive pulmonary embolism leading to cardiac arrest: one pathology, two different ECMO modes to assist patients

J Clin Monit Comput. 2016 Dec;30(6):933-937. doi: 10.1007/s10877-015-9796-2. Epub 2015 Oct 26.


Massive acute pulmonary embolism (MAPE) represents a significant risk for morbidity and mortality. The potential for sudden and fatal deterioration highlights the need for a prompt diagnosis and appropriate intervention. Using two cases reports, we describe two different modes of successful ECMO implantation (VA-ECMO vs. VV-ECMO) for MAPE leading to cardiac arrest. A 27-year-old patient with a severe trauma presented with a MAPE leading to cardiac arrest. In this case, which had absolute contraindications of thrombolysis, a VA-ECMO was successfully implanted. Additionally, a 56-year-old patient presented with a MAPE leading to cardiac arrest. Although intravenous thrombolysis allowed for hemodynamic stabilization, the patient remained severely hypoxemic with RV dilation. A VV-ECMO was successfully implemented, leading to a rapid improvement in both oxygenation and RV function. ECMO can provide lifesaving hemodynamic and respiratory support in critically ill patients with a MAPE who are too unstable to tolerate other interventions or have failed other therapies. An important determinant of success in the use of ECMO for MAPE is the return of adequate RV function, which allows physicians to appropriately identify which type of ECMO to implant.

Keywords: ECMO; Pulmonary embolism; Thrombolysis.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation / methods*
  • Heart Arrest / etiology*
  • Heart Arrest / therapy*
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Embolism / complications*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / therapy*
  • Respiration
  • Risk
  • Thrombolytic Therapy
  • Treatment Outcome