Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation in patients with severe respiratory failure from COVID-19

Intensive Care Med. 2021 Feb;47(2):208-221. doi: 10.1007/s00134-020-06331-9. Epub 2021 Feb 2.


Purpose: Limited data are available on venovenous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) in patients with severe hypoxemic respiratory failure from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Methods: We examined the clinical features and outcomes of 190 patients treated with ECMO within 14 days of ICU admission, using data from a multicenter cohort study of 5122 critically ill adults with COVID-19 admitted to 68 hospitals across the United States. To estimate the effect of ECMO on mortality, we emulated a target trial of ECMO receipt versus no ECMO receipt within 7 days of ICU admission among mechanically ventilated patients with severe hypoxemia (PaO2/FiO2 < 100). Patients were followed until hospital discharge, death, or a minimum of 60 days. We adjusted for confounding using a multivariable Cox model.

Results: Among the 190 patients treated with ECMO, the median age was 49 years (IQR 41-58), 137 (72.1%) were men, and the median PaO2/FiO2 prior to ECMO initiation was 72 (IQR 61-90). At 60 days, 63 patients (33.2%) had died, 94 (49.5%) were discharged, and 33 (17.4%) remained hospitalized. Among the 1297 patients eligible for the target trial emulation, 45 of the 130 (34.6%) who received ECMO died, and 553 of the 1167 (47.4%) who did not receive ECMO died. In the primary analysis, patients who received ECMO had lower mortality than those who did not (HR 0.55; 95% CI 0.41-0.74). Results were similar in a secondary analysis limited to patients with PaO2/FiO2 < 80 (HR 0.55; 95% CI 0.40-0.77).

Conclusion: In select patients with severe respiratory failure from COVID-19, ECMO may reduce mortality.

Keywords: ARDS; COVID-19; Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation; Mortality; Severe respiratory failure; VV-ECMO.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / complications
  • COVID-19 / therapy*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / therapy*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / virology
  • Treatment Outcome