ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation)

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When your heart or lungs struggle to do their jobs, sometimes traditional treatments can’t help. In these cases, a special machine can give you oxygen and deliver it around your body. This is called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

If you need ECMO, you're in good hands here. UVA Health's adult ECMO team is the only one in Virginia named a Center of Excellence with platinum status from the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization. And we've been named a Level 1 trauma center. It means that when you're life is on the line, you can count on us to give you the highest standards of care.

What is ECMO? How Does it Work?

The ECMO machine temporarily replaces the work of your heart and lungs. ECMO doesn’t actually treat or cure the causes of your heart or lung issues. But ECMO can support your body while your healthcare team works to manage and treat your condition.

How it Works

  1. We connect the machine to your blood system by putting tubes in a large artery and/or vein in your chest, leg, or neck.
  2. A pump is used to move the blood from your body and through the ECMO system.
  3. Your blood flows through the system’s artificial lung, which removes carbon dioxide and adds oxygen.
  4. The pump then returns your blood to your body.

If you need ECMO, you’ll be staying in our thoracic cardiovascular intensive care unit (ICU), with the machine at your bedside.

ECMO Therapy: Pumping for the Heart & Lungs

ECMO is a heart-lung machine for patients with severe heart or respiratory failure. This allows the body to maintain and recover. Nick Teman, MD, explains what to expect if you or a loved one needs ECMO as a treatment option at UVA. View ECMO transcript.

Why Would I Need ECMO?

You may need an ECMO machine if your:

  • Lungs can’t put enough oxygen into your blood
  • Lungs can’t remove enough carbon dioxide from your blood
  • Heart can’t pump enough blood around your body

You may need ECMO if you have one of these conditions:

  • Heart:
  • Lung:
    • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
    • Pneumonia
    • Other reversible lung diseases

ECMO can also support you if you:

Refer a Patient

Contact us about transferring a patient needing ECMO to our ICU.

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