Bleeding contributes to the high mortality of venovenous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (vvECMO). The development of acquired von Willebrand syndrome (AVWS) has been identified as relevant pathology during ECMO. This study was performed to determine the onset of AVWS after implantation and the recovery of von Willebrand factor (VWF) parameters after explantation of ECMO in a large cohort of patients.
VWF parameters of 59 patients treated with vvECMO at a university ECMO center were obtained before ECMO implantation, during therapy, and after explantation. In a subgroup of patients, light transmission aggregometry of platelets and flow-cytometric quantification of platelet granule secretion were performed.
All patients developed severe AVWS hours after implantation of vvECMO. After explantation, AVWS recovered within 3 hours in 60%, within 6 hours in 86%, and in all patients within 1 day. Aggregometry showed hypoaggregability of platelets after stimulation with ADP, ristocetin, collagen, and epinephrine. Flow-cytometric platelet analyses revealed severely reduced expression of CD62 and CD63.
All patients during vvECMO support rapidly develop AVWS and platelet dysfunction, resulting in severe impairment of coagulation. After explantation, AVWS overwhelmingly recovers within hours, resulting in a hypercoagulative state. These findings augment the need for novel extracorporeal technologies with reduced shear stress, and shift the emphasis for intense anti-coagulation during ECMO instead to a time-point after explantation.