Explore This Procedure

What Is ECMO?

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a specialized type of life support that can provide circulation and oxygenation when the heart and lungs are not working. Blood from the patient flows through tubes connected to an ECMO machine, which then provides oxygen to the blood and circulates it back into the patient. ECMO is used to support patients with severe heart and lung failure until they either recover or are able to go on to long-term support for transplantation.

What Happens During an ECMO Placement Procedure?

During an initiation of ECMO, special tubes called cannulas are placed into blood vessels that lead directly to the heart and lungs either through the groin, neck or an incision in the chest. These tubes are attached to a pump and oxygen source outside of the body to give adequate blood flow and oxygen to the organs and tissues. The procedure takes about an hour.

How Long Will a Patient Be on ECMO?

The length of time that a patient is on ECMO is strictly related to the severity of the patient’s disease and how quickly his/her organs recover. This can vary considerably from days to weeks to months.

How Safe Is ECMO?

As with any invasive procedure, there are risks. The main risks associated with ECMO are bleeding and stroke. Our team of clinicians makes every effort to minimize these potential risks by carefully monitoring a patient's status.

ECMO Center of Excellence

Mass General is recognized as an ECMO Center of Excellence by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization, an international consortium of health care professionals and scientists who develop and evaluate new therapies for support of failing organ systems.

The Mechanical Circulatory Support Program at Mass General comprises highly experienced surgeons, cardiologists, respiratory therapists and nurses. Our doctors are internationally recognized leaders within their respective fields and collaborate with colleagues in various departments across the hospital to share expertise and improve patient care. Through novel approaches in placing ECMO machines, patients are often able to eat and walk normally in order to gain strength while awaiting transplantation, making the Mass General ECMO procedure a valuable treatment option both in the New England region and nationally. 

Mass General is consistently ranked among the best hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Our ranking is based on our quality of care, patient safety and reputation in clinical specialties. Our commitment to excellence means that we work to ensure that our patients can receive the best care at all points during their visit.

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