Massive Pulmonary Embolism: Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation and Surgical Pulmonary Embolectomy: Controversies and Evolving Concepts in Deep Venous Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism

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Massive pulmonary embolism (PE) refers to large emboli that cause hemodynamic instability, right ventricular failure, and circulatory collapse. According to the 2016 ACCP Antithrombotic Guidelines, therapy for massive PE should include systemic thrombolytic therapy in conjunction with anticoagulation and supportive care. However, in patients with a contraindication to systemic thrombolytics or in those who fail the above interventions, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and/or surgical embolectomy may be used to improve oxygenation, achieve hemodynamic stability, and successfully treat massive PE. Randomized controlled human trials evaluating ECMO in this context have not been done, and its role has not been well-defined. The European Society of Cardiology 2014 acute PE guidelines briefly mention that ECMO can be used for massive PE as a method for hemodynamic support and as an adjunct to surgical embolectomy. The 2016 CHEST Antithrombotic Therapy for venous thromboembolism Disease guidelines do not mention ECMO in the management of massive PE. However, multiple case reports and small series cited benefit with ECMO for massive PE. Further, ECMO may facilitate stabilization for surgical embolectomy. Unfortunately, ECMO requires full anticoagulation to maintain the functionality of the system; hence, significant bleeding complicates its use in 35% of patients. Contraindications to ECMO include high bleeding risk, recent surgery or hemorrhagic stroke, poor baseline functional status, advanced age, neurologic dysfunction, morbid obesity, unrecoverable condition, renal failure, and prolonged cardiopulmonary resuscitation without adequate perfusion of end organs. In this review, we discuss management of massive PE, with an emphasis on the potential role for ECMO and/or surgical embolectomy.

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