Impact of BMI on outcomes in respiratory ECMO: an ELSO registry study

Intensive Care Med. 2023 Jan;49(1):37-49. doi: 10.1007/s00134-022-06926-4. Epub 2022 Nov 22.


Purpose: The impact of body mass index (BMI) on outcomes in respiratory failure necessitating extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) has been poorly described. We aimed to assess: (i) whether adults with class II obesity or more (BMI ≥ 35 kg/m2) have worse outcomes than lean counterparts, (ii) the form of the relationship between BMI and outcomes, (iii) whether a cutoff marking futility can be identified.

Methods: A retrospective analysis of the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) Registry from 1/1/2010 to 31/12/2020 was conducted. Impact of BMI ≥ 35 kg/m2 was assessed with propensity-score (PS) matching, inverse propensity-score weighted (IPSW) and multivariable models (MV), adjusting for a priori identified confounders. Primary outcome was in-hospital mortality. The form of the relationship between BMI and outcomes was studied with generalized additive models. Outcomes across World Health Organisation (WHO)-defined BMI categories were compared.

Results: Among 18,529 patients, BMI ≥ 35 kg/m2 was consistently associated with reduced in-hospital mortality [PS-matched: OR: 0.878(95%CI 0.798-0.966), p = 0.008; IPSW: OR: 0.899(95%CI 0.827-0.979), p = 0.014; MV: OR: 0.900(95%CI 0.834-0.971), p = 0.007] and shorter hospital length of stays. In patients with BMI ≥ 35 kg/m2, cardiovascular (17.3% versus 15.3%), renal (37% versus 30%) and device-related complications (25.7% versus 20.6%) increased, whereas pulmonary complications decreased (7.6% versus 9.3%). These findings were independent of confounders throughout PS-matched, IPSW and MV models. The relationship between BMI and outcomes was non-linear and no cutoff for futility was identified.

Conclusion: Patients with obesity class II or more treated with ECMO for respiratory failure have lower mortality risk and shorter stays, despite increased cardiovascular, device-related, and renal complications. No upper limit of BMI indicating futility of ECMO treatment could be identified. BMI as single parameter should not be a contra-indication for respiratory ECMO.

Keywords: Body mass index; Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation; Obesity; Respiratory failure.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Obesity / complications
  • Registries
  • Respiratory Insufficiency* / etiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome