Extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation in paediatric acute respiratory distress syndrome: overrated or underutilized?

Simon Erickson


Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a modified form of cardiopulmonary bypass which may provide support for severe cardiorespiratory failure including paediatric acute respiratory distress syndrome (PARDS). While ECMO was initially demonstrated to successfully support neonates with severe respiratory failure, the use of ECMO has expanded rapidly to support both paediatric and adult respiratory failure. Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) registry data shows that the use of ECMO for paediatric respiratory failure has expanded rapidly over the past decades with increasing use of venovenous ECMO. Despite the increasing complexity of children supported by ECMO for ARDS, outcomes have remained consistent with survival to hospital discharge greater than 50%. ECMO complications are still common and potentially devastating, especially neurological complications. There is grade 1 evidence to support the use of ECMO in both neonatal and adult respiratory failure but evidence in paediatric respiratory failure is confined to case series and case-control studies. While there are no published guidelines for use of ECMO in PARDS, in particular no clearly defined inclusion and exclusion criteria, current evidence suggests that children with severe ARDS may benefit from ECMO support, with survival to hospital discharge equivalent or better than conventional management in children with severe ARDS.