Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) as a treatment strategy for severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in the low tidal volume era: A systematic review

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To evaluate the hospital survival in patients with severe ARDS managed with ECMO and low tidal volume ventilation as compared to patients managed with low tidal volume ventilation alone.


Electronic databases were searched for studies of at least 10 adult patients with severe ARDS comparing the use of ECMO with low tidal volume ventilation to mechanical ventilation with a low tidal volume alone. Only studies reporting hospital or ICU survival were included. All identified studies were assessed independently by two reviewers.


Of 1782 citations, 27 studies (n = 1674) met inclusion criteria. Hospital survival for ECMO patients ranged from 33.3 to 86%, while survival with conventional therapy ranged from 36.3 to 71.2%. Five studies were identified with appropriate control groups allowing comparison, but due to the high degree of variability between studies (I2 = 63%), their results could not be pooled. Two of these studies demonstrated a significant difference, both favouring ECMO over conventional therapy.


Given the lack of studies with appropriate control groups, our confidence in a difference in outcome between the two therapies remains weak. Future studies on the use of ECMO for severe ARDS are needed to clarify the role of ECMO in this disease.

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