What risks are there with ECMO?

There are risks or complications that can occur while your child is on ECMO. The greatest of these risks is bleeding because your child will be getting a drug called heparin. Heparin plays an important role in that it reduces the formation of clots within the ECMO circuit. However, it reduces the patient's ability to clot and causes increased risks for bleeding at surgical sites, internal bleeding, and an increased risk of bleeding in the brain. Newborns and young infants will have frequent ultrasound tests of their brains to help rule out any bleeding in the brain.Labs are run frequently to carefully adjust the amount of heparin used and to monitor other blood products that assist in clotting. Small blood clots or emboli pose an additional risk and can be introduced into the patient's blood stream from the circuit.

The circuit has many moving parts that work together to provide support for your child and mechanical failure can occur. These failures are extremely rare; however, the risks for blood loss and the introduction of air to the patient can cause damage to organs, the brain, and even death. The circuit is monitored frequently by a highly trained specialist who will respond to any and all emergencies that may arise.

There are additional risks such as those associated with the transfusion of blood products. There is a slightly increased risk of infection related to the direct contact of the ECMO circuit with the patient's blood stream. There may be associated risks with patient transport for procedures such as cardiac lab, surgery, CT scan, or any other major movement required for patient care.