ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) Cannulation – Basic Strategies
ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) Cannulation – Basic Strategies

ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) Cannulation – Basic Strategies

  • Faculty: John Ingram, CCP
  • Date: April 5th, 2020 9:00 am
  • CEU’s: 0.78 CEUs
  • Price: $11.7
  • Category 3 CEU
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Course description

John Ingram, CCP gives a terrific review of ECMO cannulation strategies and the panel discusses the reasons to use Veno-Arterial and Veno-Venous ECMO. 

John and the panel review inclusion and exclusion criteria for V-A and V-V ECMO. 

Understanding ECMO Cannulation: Basic Strategies and Techniques

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) represents a vital lifeline in critical care, offering life-sustaining oxygenation and perfusion when a patient's heart and lungs are unable to function adequately. This detailed exploration delves into the foundational strategies and practical considerations for ECMO cannulation, which is crucial for the successful application of ECMO therapy.

The Basics of ECMO

ECMO stands for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, often referred to as extracorporeal life support. It is an advanced life support technique used in cases where both the cardiac and respiratory support systems have failed. ECMO works by temporarily taking over the function of the heart and lungs, allowing these organs to rest and heal during acute episodes of failure.

Types of ECMO

There are two primary types of ECMO:

  1. Veno-Venous (VV) ECMO: Used primarily for lung dysfunction, VV ECMO oxygenates the blood by removing carbon dioxide and adding oxygen before returning it to the venous system.

  2. Veno-Arterial (VA) ECMO: Used for heart and lung failure, VA ECMO draws blood from a vein, oxygenates it, and pumps it back into an artery, effectively bypassing the heart and lungs.

Cannulation Techniques

Cannulation is a critical procedure in the setup of ECMO, involving the insertion of cannulas into major blood vessels to facilitate the flow of blood to and from the ECMO machine. There are two main approaches:

  1. Percutaneous Cannulation: This is the most common approach, utilizing ultrasound guidance to access the vessels. It is less invasive and can be performed quickly, which is crucial in emergency settings.

  2. Surgical Cannulation: Used when percutaneous access is not feasible. This method involves directly exposing the vessel via surgical dissection, providing a secure and controlled environment for cannula insertion.

Cannulation Strategies for VV and VA ECMO

  • VV ECMO Cannulation: Typically involves the insertion of cannulas in the jugular and femoral veins. This method allows for effective oxygenation of the blood with minimal interference with cardiac function.

  • VA ECMO Cannulation: Often requires access via the femoral artery and vein, allowing blood to be oxygenated and then pumped back into the arterial system, providing both respiratory and cardiac support.

Advantages and Pitfalls

Each cannulation technique and ECMO type has specific advantages and pitfalls. For instance, percutaneous cannulation reduces the risk of infection associated with open surgical sites and decreases recovery time. However, it requires skilled operators and precise ultrasound guidance to avoid complications like arterial puncture or hematoma.

Surgical cannulation, while more invasive, provides a more secure and stable environment for the cannulas, which is crucial in prolonged ECMO support or when percutaneous access is not possible due to anatomical constraints.

Optimizing ECMO Care

The choice of cannulation technique and the type of ECMO used are determined based on the patient’s specific needs and underlying health conditions. Proper assessment and continuous monitoring are essential to ensure the ECMO circuit functions optimally without complications such as clotting, bleeding, or infection.


ECMO cannulation is a sophisticated procedure that requires a deep understanding of both the technology and the patient’s physiology. It demands precision and care from a multidisciplinary team, including surgeons, perfusionists, and critical care specialists. By tailoring the approach to each patient's unique situation, healthcare providers can maximize the benefits of ECMO, offering a bridge to recovery for patients facing life-threatening heart and lung failures.

This comprehensive guide on ECMO cannulation not only serves as a crucial resource for healthcare professionals but also enhances the protocols that ensure patient safety and improve outcomes in critical care settings. By refining these strategies and understanding their implications, the medical community continues to advance in its capability to manage the most severe cases of organ failure.

#ECMO #cannulation #perfusion 
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Meet Your Instructor

John Ingram, CCP

John Ingram, CCP

John Ingram is a magna cum laude graduate from University of Texas, Texas Heart Institute and a board certified perfusionist currently specializing in adult perfusion

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