Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation for Severe Pediatric Respiratory Failure

Respir Care. 2017 Jun;62(6):732-750. doi: 10.4187/respcare.05338.


Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) was developed initially in the 1960s to support refractory respiratory failure in addition to the cardiac support inherent in a venoarterial bypass circuit. Early successes occurred predominantly in the neonatal population with subsequent randomized controlled trials and comprehensive reviews concluding therapeutic efficacy for ECMO in neonatal respiratory failure. In contrast, the evidence supporting ECMO for respiratory failure in children is less definitive. However, although pediatric randomized controlled trials have not been completed, sufficient evidence in support of ECMO as a beneficial therapy for pediatric respiratory failure exists. The acceptance of clinical utility and benefit from ECMO for pediatric ARDS and the trend toward increasing venovenous ECMO use have led to its inclusion in the Pediatric Acute Lung Injury Consensus Conference as a strongly agreed upon recommendation for severe pediatric ARDS. However, the Pediatric Acute Lung Injury Consensus Conference recommendations supporting the use of ECMO for pediatric ARDS highlight the lack of evidence-based selection criteria when determining ECMO candidacy in pediatric patients with ARDS. Ultimately, decisions to proceed with ECMO and the concomitant risk of potential life-threatening complications must consider multiple factors that balance potential risks and likelihood of benefit, pre-morbid conditions and impact on potential post-ECMO quality of life, candidacy for lung transplantation, and patient and family goals of care. This review will discuss ECMO for the support of pediatric respiratory failure, ventilator management during ECMO, considerations impacting timing of decannulation, and developing techniques.

Keywords: ECMO; pediatric ARDS; pediatrics; respiratory failure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Catheterization / methods
  • Child
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation / methods*
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / therapy*
  • Time Factors
  • Ventilators, Mechanical