Mechanical ventilation in patients subjected to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)

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Mechanical ventilation (MV) is a crucial element in the management of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), because there is high level evidence that a low tidal volume of 6ml/kg (protective ventilation) improves survival. In these patients with refractory respiratory insufficiency, venovenous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) can be used. This salvage technique improves oxygenation, promotes CO2 clearance, and facilitates protective and ultraprotective MV, potentially minimizing ventilation-induced lung injury.

Although numerous trials have investigated different ventilation strategies in patients with ARDS, consensus is lacking on the optimal MV settings during venovenous ECMO. Although the concept of “lung rest” was introduced years ago, there are no evidence-based guidelines on its use in application to MV in patients supported by ECMO. How MV in ECMO patients can promote lung recovery and weaning from ventilation is not clear.

The purpose of this review is to describe the ventilation strategies used during venovenous ECMO in clinical practice.

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