It saved lives in past epidemics of lung-damaging viruses. Now, the life-support option known as ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) appears to be doing the same for many of the critically ill COVID-19 patients who receive it, according to a new international study. The 1,035 patients in the study faced a staggeringly high risk of death, as ventilators and other care had failed to support their lungs. But after they were placed on ECMO, their actual death rate was less than 40%. That's similar to the rate for patients treated with ECMO in past outbreaks of lung-damaging viruses, and other severe forms of viral pneumonia. The new study was published online on September 25, 2020 in The Lancet (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32008-0/fulltext) and provides strong support for the use of ECMO in appropriate patients as the pandemic rages on worldwide. The Lancet article is titled “Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Support In COVID-19: An International Cohort Study of the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization Registry.” The research team also presented its findings at the ELSO Annual Meeting on September 26. The ELSO is the “Extracorporeal Life Support Organization.”The study results may help more hospitals that have ECMO capability understand which of their COVID-19 patients might benefit from the technique, which channels blood out of the body and into a circuit of equipment that adds oxygen directly to the blood before pumping it back into regular circulation. Small studies published early in the pandemic had cast doubt on the technique's usefulness.
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