How Long A Person Can Be On ECMO (And Why)?

Exact Answer: Up to a few weeks

ECMO is a vital life support mechanism commonly used by physicians to counter the effects of respiratory and circulatory system failures in a patient. The external machine helps oxygenate the blood of the patient outside his body. The carbon dioxide stored in the blood is filtered out by the machine and the blood is pumped back into the body of the concerned individual.

Generally, the use of this crucial life support machine is prescribed by the physician when the heart and lungs of the patient need some time to heal and recover. Using the ECMO procedure helps provide the much-needed respite to these organs.

How Long Can a Person Be On ECMO?

The detailed medical history of each patient must be taken into consideration before determining the use of the duration of ECMO usage. The doctor supervising the patient’s care will evaluate the overall health of the patient, his existing co-morbidities, as well as the current status of the condition he or she experiencing to fix the total duration for using the ECMO machine as a life support mechanism.

Generally, for patients who are suffering from pneumococcal diseases like pneumonia or lung infections, doctors may prescribe the use of ECMO for a few days or weeks. The ECMO machine is used until the condition of the patient stabilizes completely.

Doctors may decide to use ECMO if a patient is severely injured in an accident. If the injury causes severe damage to his heart and lungs, then, the doctors may decide to give these vital organs some time to recover. They may do so by putting the patient on ECMO for a couple of days.

In some cases, patients suffering from acute congenital conditions that affect these systems may slip into a coma. In such cases, doctors use ECMO to keep the patient alive. ECMO life support can be used for several weeks and months in such cases.

The general medical thump rule remains the need to assess the health of the patient. If the patient shows signs of improvement on ECMO, then the doctors can decide to wean him off the machine. However, if no signs of visible improvement are noted, then the patient can remain hooked on the machine for quite some time. Thus, the duration of using ECMO for each patient will be different.

In Summary:

ConditionTime Under ECMO
Injury-Related System MalfunctionA couple of days
Pneumococcal Diseases  A few days to a few weeks
ComaUp to several weeks

Why Does A Person Remain on ECMO For So Long?

A person remains on the ECMO life support for a considerable amount of time because his body needs time to recuperate from the injury or condition he is experiencing. Doctors often opt for ECMO because it helps keep the patient alive for some time as they are devising a more conclusive strategy to counter his health issues.

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In the event of a severe pneumococcal ailment, doctors often put the patient on ECMO to help his respiratory and circulatory systems recover from the stresses and strains of the condition. Few days are needed for the infection to clear out from the patient’s system, thus, most ECMO support provided to such patients ranges from a few days up to a week.

On the other hand, a patient suffering from an injury-related system problem can be kept on ECMO as long as the team of doctors tries to ideate a prudent strategy to counter the problems of the injury or repair it completely. It is essentially used in such situations to keep the patient alive.  

When a patient slips into a coma, his respiratory and circulatory systems cannot function on their own. In such conditions, doctors have to use ECMO to provide life support to the patient until he regains consciousness and can self-regulate these processes.

The objective remains to get the patient off ECMO as soon as medically deemed correct. Depending on how the condition progresses, doctors will indicate the best time for weaning the patient off ECMO. Some patients may be ECMO for fewer days as compared to others, depending on the progress their bodies have made while on life support.

Conclusion

ECMO is often acknowledged as a life-changing mechanism for patients. It has helped save a number of critically ill patients over the years. By oxygenating the patient’s blood outside his body, ECMO has helped doctors reverse both respiratory and circulatory issues.

Generally, a patient is kept hooked on to the machine as long as it is deemed medically necessary. When doctors notice a visible improvement in the health of the concerned patient, they decide to discontinue using ECMO. For most patients, this period generally lasts up to a week. In severe cases, ECMO usage can be continued for up to several weeks.

References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1443950608008524
  2. https://amsect.smithbucklin.com/JECT/PDFs/1979_volume11/issue1/ject_1979_v11_n1_bartlett.pdf
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