Examining the role of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation in patients following suspected or confirmed suicide attempts: A case series

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The decision to offer extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is based on a risk/benefit assessment and the likelihood of a treatable underlying condition or the feasibility of destination therapy (durable mechanical support or thoracic organ transplantation) should heart-lung function fail to improve. Patients who present following suspected suicide attempts who fail medical therapy may pose a dilemma for clinicians. An assessment to determine if a patient has a high likelihood of psychiatric recovery such that bridging with ECMO or ultimately destination therapy could or should be offered is not always feasible in the setting of critical illness. This case series reviews our institution's experience with ECMO in the management of five patients who presented following suspected or confirmed suicide attempts. All five patients survived to hospital discharge. Two had subsequent psychiatric admissions, one following a repeat suicide attempt. A discussion of these cases demonstrates the effectiveness of ECMO in supporting this group of patients in the short-term. The self-limited natural history of many psychiatric episodes, poisonings and traumatic injuries makes the use of ECMO a potentially reasonable support strategy. However, careful consideration must be given to psychiatric history and follow-up given the substantial commitment of resources, potential for complications and for stranding patients on extracorporeal therapy without definitive destination therapy.

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