Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) | MedStar Health

Pumping your blood through artificial lungs lets your heart rest

If your heart is failing or you have recently undergone heart surgery, your heart may need time to rest or recover. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, pumps your blood through a machine so your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to deliver oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. We also may recommend ECMO to prepare your heart for an assist device, such as a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

Our cardiac surgery program is one of the highest-volume cardiac surgery centers in the region. These surgeons’ experience helps them determine best practices to refine surgical techniques and improve patient care. Patients who need ECMO often are critically ill, and our surgeons work with other teams, such as palliative care or heart failure doctors, to treat their complex and unique conditions.

What to expect from ECMO

ECMO is often used for patients who have already been admitted to the hospital. The procedure to connect the patient to the ECMO machine will be performed in the hospital room. The patient will be sedated and given medications to reduce pain and prevent blood clots.

The ECMO machine is connected to a patient using thin, flexible tubes called catheters that are inserted into an artery and a vein. If the patient is also placed on a ventilator to relieve stress on the lungs, they will be sedated and likely have a feeding tube inserted for nutrition.


Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE)

Transesophageal echocardiogram allows doctors to take very detailed images of the heart structure from a probe in the esophagus.

Our locations

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MedStar Union Memorial Hospital

201 E. University Pkwy.
Baltimore, MD 21218

MedStar Washington Hospital Center

110 Irving St. NW
Washington, DC 20010


Have questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net.