Termination of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation for cardiac support

David M. Steinhorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The determination of when to stop extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) rests upon demonstration of the return of adequate cardiac function to support vital organs and permit subsequent recovery. In general, patients with myocardial stun will recover function within several days. Factors that limit recovery include elevated end diastolic pressures leading to marginal myocardial perfusion, ongoing organ damage, massive anasarca, or progressive deterioration in lung function. Following a trial of slow weaning of ECMO support to condition the heart to take over the entire system flow requirements, decannulation can be accomplished in a standard fashion. When weaning is not successful and additional time does not lead to adequate recovery of cardiac function, physicians and nurses must be prepare to realistically advise families regarding such options as cardiac transplantation or withdrawal of support. It is critically important to provide an open and nonjudgmental environment for families to make these difficult decisions. The greatest difficulties involve ethical and emotional decisions that need to be made in a timely fashion to prevent undo burden on the patient when further ECMO support is futile.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1026-1030
Number of pages5
JournalArtificial Organs
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Ethics
  • Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation termination
  • Futility in critical care
  • Transplantation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics


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