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The role of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) has not been formally validated for patients with adult respiratory distress syndrome. In anticipation of publication of the conventional ventilation versus ECMO in severe adult respiratory failure (CESAR) trial, the role of ECMO in this setting was reviewed. An electronic search for studies reporting the use of ECMO for the treatment of adult respiratory distress syndrome revealed two randomised controlled trials and three non-controlled trials. Bayesian analysis on the two randomised controlled trials produced an odds ratio mortality of 1.28 (credible interval 0.24 to 6.55) demonstrating no significant harm or benefit. Pooling was not possible for the non-controlled studies because of differing admission status and ECMO selection criteria and an inability to control for these differences in the absence of individual patient data. A large number (n=35) of case series have been published with generally more positive results. We also present a comprehensive narrative commentary on the history, current practice and future for ECMO. ECMO, as rescue therapy for adult respiratory distress syndrome, appears to be an unvalidated rescue treatment option. Analysis and review of trial data does not support its application; however the body of reported cases suggests otherwise. Until the CESAR trial provides an authoritative answer ECMO will continue to be offered on a case by case basis.
|Number of pages||10|
|Journal||Anaesthesia and Intensive Care|
|Publication status||Published - Mar 2008|