The ECMO machine is connected to a patient’s body through plastic tubes placed in large veins and arteries in the body. The machine pumps blood from the patient’s body to an artificial lung (oxygenator), which adds oxygen to it and removes carbon dioxide. This replaces the function of the patient’s own lungs.
When a patient is first being connected to an ECMO machine, he or she is sedated and does not feel the tubes going into the veins and arteries. Once connected to an ECMO machine, the cannula are not painful. Patients who are on an ECMO machine may be given medicines (sedatives or pain controllers) to keep them comfortable.
Any patient connected to an ECMO machine in the ICU is also connected to monitors. These monitors measure heart rate, blood, pressure and oxygen levels.
Members of the patient’s healthcare team use all of these results to see how well the ECMO machine is helping the patient and to make changes if needed.