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Massive pulmonary embolism (PE) can present with extreme physiological dysfunction, characterised by acute right ventricular failure, hypoxaemia unresponsive to conventional therapy and cardiac arrest. Consensus regarding the management of patients with persistent shock following thrombolysis is lacking. Our primary objective was to describe the application of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) in the treatment of acute massive PE. We were unable to identify any randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing ECMO with other support systems in the setting of massive PE. We reviewed case reports and case series published in the past 20 years to evaluate the mortality rate and any poor prognostic factors. Overall survival was 70.1% and none of the definitive treatment modalities was associated with a higher mortality (thrombolysis - OR - 0.99, P - 0.9, catheter embolectomy - OR - 1.01, P - 0.99, surgical embolectomy - OR - 0.44, P - 0.20). Patients who had ECMO instituted whilst in cardiorespiratory arrest had a higher risk of death. (OR - 16.71, P - 0.0004). When compared with other causes of cardiac arrest, patients who survived a massive PE presented a good neurological outcome (cerebral performance category 1 or 2).