Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Therapy

What are the risks of ECMO?

Bleeding:
The most common complication during ECMO is bleeding. A blood thinner is given to the child to prevent clotting while the blood goes through the machine, this can lead to bleeding. The amount of the blood thinner given is closely monitored and all measures to minimize the risk of bleeding are taken. If bleeding does occur and cannot be controlled the ECMO therapy may have to be discontinued.

Infection:
Whenever an invasive procedure is performed, such as placing a catheter into a blood vessel, there is an increased risk of infection. As a standard practice we give antibiotics as a precautionary measure and watch every child carefully for signs of infection.

Transfusions:
Children on ECMO require frequent blood transfusions. Blood transfusions carry the risk of a blood reaction and transmitting a blood-borne illness such as hepatitis or AIDS. This risk is minimized by extensive screening performed by the blood bank in which we receive blood products, however there remains a very small risk that this can occur.

Blood Clots:
Small blood clots or air bubbles can get into the bloodstream from the line, this can be fatal in some circumstances. Every safety precaution is taken so that this does not occur.

Stroke:
A result of this procedure may involve tying off the carotid artery, which is one of the blood vessels that supplies blood flow to the brain. Although there are other blood vessels that will take over and carry blood to the brain, stroke is considered a long term risk as the child continues into adulthood. This complication is very rare and to date we have not had a patient experience this type of problem.