Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a temporary mechanical support system that handles the function of the heart and/or lungs in patients with a variety of cardiac and respiratory problems. ECMO uses a pump that attaches with tubes to large blood vessels in the neck or groin. It is most commonly used for patients recovering from heart surgery or suffering from cardiac shock, awaiting a heart or lung transplant or heart-assistance device, or battling respiratory conditions such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome). The system also has proven effective among those with respiratory failure associated with trauma, poisoning, post-surgical complications, and pregnancy. Risks include bleeding, blood clots, infection, and other potential problems; however, many adults and children who need ECMO likely would die if the system was not used. Though ECMO isn’t new, it saw dramatic increases in usage and positive outcomes following the 2009 worldwide flu outbreak, when ECMO’s benefits became evident in cases where traditional mechanical oxygen support failed.


UAB Medicine’s extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) program was started more than 20 years ago and is the only one in the state of Alabama. In 2016, UAB received the Gold Level Award for Excellence for its use of ECMO from the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO). The award recognizes ECMO programs worldwide that distinguish themselves by establishing processes, procedures, and systems to promote excellence and exceptional care using ECMO and have achieved the highest levels of performance, innovation, satisfaction, and quality. Through its relationship with ELSO, UAB is part of a global alliance of ECMO centers.

UAB’s ECMO program supports 80-100 adult patients per year and another 40-50 pediatric patients at Children’s of Alabama, making it one of the busiest ECMO centers in the nation. It has the capacity to support multiple patients in a dedicated section of the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit, with 24/7 support from an ECMO specialist and access to pulmonologists, cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, nurses trained in ECMO, and other health care professionals dedicated to patients in need of ECMO support. UAB serves as a regional referral center capable of providing technical services and consultations related to ECMO, and the program is involved in advanced research initiatives focused on therapies to support failing organ systems.

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Related Conditions

This procedure may be used to treat or diagnose several different conditions. We have listed some of these conditions below for your convenience. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list and may vary depending on your specific diagnosis.

Related Treatments

Depending on your case and your physician’s assessment, your condition may be treated using one or more various procedures. Some of those procedures are listed below for your convenience. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list and may vary depending on your specific diagnosis.


UAB is an active participant in research and clinical trials for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation. We encourage you to speak to your physician about research and clinical trial options and browse the link below for more information on clinical trials at clinicaltrials.gov.

View Clinical Trials