NIH-funded study supports use of ECMO for critically ill patients with obesity

Aug. 29, 2023
ECMO does not appear to complicate treatment for severe respiratory failure for adults with obesity.

A National Institutes of Health-supported study suggests that adults with obesity may benefit from the use of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), an advanced form of breathing support, when in intensive care for respiratory failure. ECMO’s use was previously questioned for patients with obesity due to the belief that it may complicate treatment. However, the current findings, which published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, show that patients with obesity who received ECMO for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) had lower mortality rates compared to patients with ARDS without obesity who received ECMO.

In this study, researchers retrospectively reviewed data from 790 patients from more than 20 medical centers across 10 countries who received ECMO for ARDS, a critical lung injury. Among these patients, 320 had obesity. They found 24% of patients with obesity died in the intensive care unit compared to 35% of patients without obesity. The authors couldn’t control for all variables among the larger group analysis, including disease severity. However, they conclude the findings support the concept that obesity, a risk factor for ARDS, shouldn’t factor into treatment decisions for ECMO.

NIH release