Sounding the Alarm: What Clinicians Need to Know about Physical, Emotional, and Cognitive Recovery After Venoarterial Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation

Crit Care Med. 2023 Sep 1;51(9):1234-1245. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0000000000005900. Epub 2023 May 1.


Objective: We summarize the existing data on the occurrence of physical, emotional, and cognitive dysfunction associated with postintensive care syndrome (PICS) in adult survivors of venoarterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (VA-ECMO).

Data sources: MEDLINE, Cochrane Library, EMBASE, Web of Science, and CINAHL databases were searched.

Study selection: Peer-reviewed studies of adults receiving VA-ECMO for any reason with at least one measure of health-related quality of life outcomes or PICS at long-term follow-up of at least 6 months were included.

Data extraction: The participant demographics and baseline characteristics, in-hospital outcomes, long-term health outcomes, quality of life outcome measures, and prevalence of PICS were extracted.

Data synthesis: Twenty-seven studies met inclusion criteria encompassing 3,271 patients who were treated with VA-ECMO. The studies were limited to single- or two-center studies. Outcomes variables and follow-up time points evaluated were widely heterogeneous which limits comprehensive analysis of PICS after VA-ECMO. In general, the longer-term PICS-related outcomes of survivors of VA-ECMO were worse than the general population, and approaching that of patients with chronic disease. Available studies identified high rates of abnormal 6-minute walk distance, depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder that persisted for years. Half or fewer survivors return to work years after discharge. Only 2 of 27 studies examined cognitive outcomes and no studies evaluated cognitive dysfunction within the first year of recovery. No studies evaluated the impact of targeted interventions on these outcomes.

Conclusions: Survivors of VA-ECMO represent a population of critically ill patients at high risk for deficits in physical, emotional, and cognitive function related to PICS. This systematic review highlights the alarming reality that PICS and in particular, neurocognitive outcomes, in survivors of VA-ECMO are understudied, underrecognized, and thus likely undertreated. These results underscore the imperative that we look beyond survival to focus on understanding the burden of survivorship with the goal of optimizing recovery and outcomes after these life-saving interventions. Future prospective, multicenter, longitudinal studies in recovery after VA-ECMO are justified.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety
  • Cognition*
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation* / methods
  • Humans
  • Multicenter Studies as Topic
  • Quality of Life*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / therapy

Supplementary concepts

  • postintensive care syndrome