Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a type of life support machine. An ECMO machine can perform the functions of the heart and lungs for critically ill children.


Doctors use ECMO for short periods to help children heal from life-threatening conditions. ECMO does not cure these conditions, but it buys time for doctors to try new treatments and for your child’s body to recover.

The ECMO machine does the work of the heart and lungs—outside of the body. It puts oxygen into the blood, removes carbon dioxide and pumps blood throughout the body.

Uses for ECMO include:

  • Giving a newborn baby’s lungs or heart more time to develop
  • Helping the lungs or heart heal after medical trauma
  • Providing temporary support before or after surgical procedures

Conditions ECMO may treat

Doctors only use ECMO to treat severe, life-threatening conditions. These conditions may include:

ECMO Types

There are two types of ECMO:

  • Veno-venous (VV) ECMO: This type supports the lungs when the heart is still working. The ECMO machine connects to one of your child’s large veins. As blood passes through the machine, VV ECMO adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide. The oxygenated blood returns through a vein.
  • Veno-arterial (VA) ECMO: This type supports the heart and lungs. The ECMO machine connects to a large vein and an artery. As blood from the vein passes through the machine, VA ECMO adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide. The oxygenated blood returns through an artery, and the machine helps pump it to the body.

What to Expect During ECMO

Your child’s doctor will talk to you about the benefits and risks of ECMO. If you decide ECMO is the right option for your child, a special team hooks up the ECMO machine and monitors your child. The ECMO team includes pediatric intensivists, cardiothoracic surgeons, and cardiologists with special training in managing ECMO.

Cardiac Critical Care Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

At Children's Hospital, your child receives excellent care from world-class experts. Learn more about cardiac critical care medicine at CHLA.