ECMO Breathing Support Safe, Effective for Obese Patients

ECMO Breathing Support Safe, Effective for Obese Patients

Using ECMO to Treat Obese Patients in Intensive Care: A Lifesaving Breakthrough

When it comes to treating obese patients in intensive care, there have long been concerns about the effectiveness of certain treatments. However, a recent study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has revealed promising findings regarding the use of ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), a highly advanced form of breathing support.

Traditionally, the use of ECMO in obese patients has been questioned, but this study suggests that not only does it not complicate treatment, but it may even improve outcomes for those experiencing respiratory failure. The study analyzed data from 790 patients who received ECMO for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) across medical centers in 10 countries.

Out of these patients, 320 were obese. Surprisingly, the study found that obese patients who received ECMO had lower death rates compared to non-obese patients with ARDS who also received ECMO. Specifically, 24% of obese patients died in the intensive care unit, while the rate for non-obese patients was 35%.

While the study couldn’t control for all variables, including disease severity, the researchers concluded that these findings support the idea that obesity should not determine whether or not a patient receives ECMO. This is an important breakthrough that could potentially save lives, as it encourages clinicians to consider the advantages of ECMO for obese patients, rather than preemptively withholding this lifesaving therapy.

This study’s conclusions are in line with previous research looking at patient registries and observational reviews. It strengthens the argument that obesity should not factor into treatment decisions for ECMO, providing hope for obese patients facing respiratory distress.

ARDS accounts for approximately 10% of intensive care unit admissions worldwide, and in this study, the most common factor leading to the condition was pneumonia. Survival rates for ARDS vary, typically ranging from 50% to 75%. Similarly, survival rates for ECMO, which is considered a last-resort treatment, have also varied between 60% and 75%.

The study, published recently in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, received partial support from the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the U.S. National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

This groundbreaking research highlights the potential of ECMO for obese patients in intensive care. The findings challenge previous assumptions and pave the way for improved treatment options and better outcomes for individuals with obesity and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

It is crucial for clinicians to consider the data from this study when making decisions regarding ECMO treatment for patients with obesity. By doing so, they can potentially save lives and ensure that this lifesaving therapy is accessible to all who need it.

More information

The American Thoracic Society has more information on ECMO.

SOURCES: – U.S. National Institutes of Health, news release, Aug. 28, 2023