Extracorporeal life support in the emergency department: A narrative review for the emergency physician

Resuscitation. 2018 Dec;133:108-117. doi: 10.1016/j.resuscitation.2018.10.014. Epub 2018 Oct 15.


Background: Extracorporeal life support (ECLS) describes the use of blood perfusion devices to provide advanced cardiac or respiratory support. Advances in percutaneous vascular cannula insertion, centrifugal pump technologies, and the miniaturization of extracorporeal devices have simplified ECLS. The intention of this discussion is to review the role of ECLS as a potential rescue method for emergency department (ED) clinicians in critical clinical scenarios and to focus on the prerequisites for managing an ECLS program in an ED setting.

Discussion: Possible indications for ECLS cannulation in the ED include ongoing circulatory arrest, shock or refractory hypoxemia and pulmonary embolism with refractory shock. Severe trauma, foreign body obstruction, hypothermia and near drowning are situations in which patients may potentially benefit from ECLS. Early stabilization in the ED can provide a time window for a diagnostic workup and/or urgent procedures, including percutaneous coronary intervention, rewarming or damage control surgery in trauma. The use of ECLS is resource intensive and can be associated with a high risk of complications, especially when performed without previous training. Therefore, ECLS should only be used when the underlying problem is potentially reversible, and the resources are available to address the etiology of organ dysfunction.

Conclusion: Emergent ECLS has a role in the ED for selected indications in the face of life-threatening conditions. ECLS provides a bridge to recovery, definitive therapy, intervention or surgery. ECLS program requires an appropriately trained staff (physicians, nurses and ECLS specialists), equipment resources and logistical planning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation / adverse effects
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation / methods*
  • Heart Arrest / therapy*
  • Heparin / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / therapy*
  • Thromboembolism / etiology
  • Thromboembolism / prevention & control


  • Anticoagulants
  • Heparin