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01.12.2017 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

Critical Care 1/2017

Life-threatening massive pulmonary embolism rescued by venoarterial-extracorporeal membrane oxygenation

Critical Care > Ausgabe 1/2017
Fillipo Corsi, Guillaume Lebreton, Nicolas Bréchot, Guillaume Hekimian, Ania Nieszkowska, Jean-Louis Trouillet, Charles-Edouard Luyt, Pascal Leprince, Jean Chastre, Alain Combes, Matthieu Schmidt
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​s13054-017-1655-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Despite quick implementation of reperfusion therapies, a few patients with high-risk, acute, massive, pulmonary embolism (PE) remain highly hemodynamically unstable. Others have absolute contraindication to receive reperfusion therapies. Venoarterial-extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (VA-ECMO) might lower their right ventricular overload, improve hemodynamic status, and restore tissue oxygenation.


ECMO-related complications and 90-day mortality were analyzed for 17 highly unstable, ECMO-treated, massive PE patients admitted to a tertiary-care center (2006–2015). Hospital- discharge survivors were assessed for long-term health-related quality of life. A systematic review of this topic was also conducted.


Seventeen high-risk PE patients [median age 51 (range 18–70) years, Simplified Acute Physiology Score II (SAPS II) 78 (45–95)] were placed on VA-ECMO for 4 (1–12) days. Among 15 (82%) patients with pre-ECMO cardiac arrest, seven (41%) were cannulated during cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and eight (47%) underwent pre-ECMO thrombolysis. Pre-ECMO median blood pressure, pH, and blood lactate were, respectively: 42 (0–106) mmHg, 6.99 (6.54–7.37) and 13 (4–19) mmol/L. Ninety-day survival was 47%. Fifteen (88%) patients suffered in-ICU severe hemorrhages with no impact on survival. Like other ECMO-treated patients, ours reported limitations of all physical domains but preserved mental health 19 (4–69) months post-ICU discharge.


VA-ECMO could be a lifesaving rescue therapy for patients with high-risk, acute, massive PE when thrombolytic therapy fails or the patient is too sick to benefit from surgical thrombectomy. Because heparin-induced clot dissolution and spontaneous fibrinolysis allows ECMO weaning within several days, future studies should investigate whether VA-ECMO should be the sole therapy or completed by additional mechanical clot-removal therapies in this setting.
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