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Ann Thorac Surg. 1999 Aug;68(2):672-7.

Cardiopulmonary support and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation for cardiac assist.

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Department of Cardiovascular Surgery, University Hospital Vaudois, Lausanne, Switzerland.



Use of cardiopulmonary bypass for emergency resuscitation is not new. In fact, John Gibbon proposed this concept for the treatment of severe pulmonary embolism in 1937. Significant progress has been made since, and two main concepts for cardiac assist based on cardiopulmonary bypass have emerged: cardiopulmonary support (CPS) and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). The objective of this review is to summarize the state of the art in these two technologies.


Configuration of CPS is now fairly standard. A mobile cart with relatively large wheels allowing for easy transportation carries a centrifugal pump, a back-up battery with a charger, an oxygen cylinder, and a small heating system. Percutaneous cannulation, pump-driven venous return, rapid availability, and transportability are the main characteristics of a CPS system. Cardiocirculatory arrest is a major predictor of mortality despite the use of CPS. In contrast, CPS appears to be a powerful tool for patients in cardiogenic shock before cardiocirculatory arrest, requiring some type of therapeutic procedures, especially repair of anatomically correctable problems or bridging to other mechanical circulatory support systems such as ventricular assist devices. CPS is in general not suitable for long-term applications because of the small-bore cannulas, resulting in significant pressure gradients and eventually hemolysis.


In contrast, ECMO can be designed for longer-term circulatory support. This requires large-bore cannulas and specifically designed oxygenators. The latter are either plasma leakage resistent (true membranes) or relatively thrombo-resistant (heparin coated). Both technologies require oxygenator changeovers although the main reason for this is different (clotting for the former, plasma leakage for the latter). Likewise, the tubing within a roller pump has to be displaced and centrifugal pump heads have to be replaced over time. ECMO is certainly the first choice for a circulatory support system in the neonatal and pediatric age groups, where the other assist systems are too bulky. ECMO is also indicated for patients improving on CPS. Septic conditions are, in general, considered as contraindications for ECMO.


Ease of availability and moderate cost of cardiopulmonary bypass-based cardiac support technologies have to be balanced against the significant immobilization of human resources, which is required to make them successful.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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