Utilization of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation during the COVID-19 pandemic

World J Crit Care Med. 2021 Jan 9;10(1):1-11. doi: 10.5492/wjccm.v10.i1.1.


The ongoing outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 [SARS-CoV-2, or coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)] was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. Worldwide, more than 65 million people have been infected with this SARS-CoV-2 virus, and over 1.5 million people have died due to the viral illness. Although a tremendous amount of medical progress has been made since its inception, there continues to be ongoing research regarding the pathophysiology, treatments, and vaccines. While a vast majority of those infected develop only mild to moderate symptoms, about 5% of people have severe forms of infection resulting in respiratory failure, myocarditis, septic shock, or multi-organ failure. Despite maximal cardiopulmonary support and invasive mechanical ventilation, mortality remains high. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) remains a valid treatment option when maximal conventional strategies fail. Utilization of ECMO in the pandemic is challenging from both resource allocation and ethical standpoints. This article reviews the rationale behind its use, current status of utilization, and future considerations for ECMO in critically ill COVID-19 patients.

Keywords: Acute respiratory distress syndrome; COVID-19; Critical care; Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation; Research; Shock.

Publication types

  • Review