Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) is an intensive care treatment that uses a pump to remove blood from the body, oxygenates and removes carbon dioxide from that blood, and then returns the blood to the body. This system is used when a patient has a condition that prevents the lungs or heart from providing sufficient blood or oxygen to vital organs. It allows the patient's damaged lungs or heart time to rest and recover. It may also support a patient who is awaiting a lung or heart transplant or needs more permanent mechanical support of his or her circulation. The technique is similar to that used by a cardiopulmonary bypass machine during open coronary artery bypass graft (CABG surgery), but ECMO can be used for days or weeks.

Cardiac specialists at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Heart & Vascular Center are experienced in using ECMO technology for their patients. A multidisciplinary collaboration of ECMO specialists from cardiac surgery, cardiology, thoracic surgery, pulmonary medicine and anesthesiology enables our physicians to handle the most complex cases, with a range of traditional and minimally invasive treatment options. ECMO is an important treatment option considered by the Shock Team, part of the Heart & Vascular Center's Rapid Response Teams, a multidisciplinary group of experts who rapidly evaluate BWH patients who have experienced circulatory collapse.

With 47,000 outpatient visits each year, the Heart & Vascular Center is one of the largest in the United States, treating over 7,000 inpatients and performing more than 8,000 procedures annually at our state-of-the-art Shapiro Cardiovascular Center.

Why Have Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)?

ECMO may be used for patients with the following conditions:

  • Severe heart failure
  • Severe pulmonary hypertension
  • Recovery period after heart surgery
  • Support while awaiting heart or lung transplantation
  • Severe pneumonia
  • Severe infection
  • Serious car accident injury

What You Should Expect

The Heart & Vascular Center is located in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, across the street from BWH’s main 75 Francis Street entrance. The Center brings together the full range of services in one location, fostering seamless and coordinated care for all cardiovascular patients.

During your procedure, family and friends can wait in the Shapiro Family Center where staff members will provide surgery updates.

Multidisciplinary Care

Patients benefit from the teamwork of surgeons, cardiologists, thoracic surgeons, pulmonologists and anesthesiologists, all experts in cardiovascular disease. They work alongside nurses, physician assistants and other specialists to achieve outstanding outcomes for our patients.

Heart & Vascular Center Appointments and Locations


Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families.

Access a complete directory of patient and family services.

Learn about the Watkins Clinic in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center.

Download Cardiac Surgery: A Guide for Patients in English or Spanish.

Learn more about Brigham and Women's Hospital

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