The substantial growth over the last decade in the use of extracorporeal life support for adults with acute respiratory failure reveals an enthusiasm for the technology not always consistent with the evidence. However, recent high-quality data, primarily in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, have made extracorporeal life support more widely accepted in clinical practice.
Clinical trials of extracorporeal life support for acute respiratory failure in adults in the 1970s and 1990s failed to demonstrate benefit, reducing use of the intervention for decades and relegating it to a small number of centers. Nonetheless, technological improvements in extracorporeal support made it safer to use. Interest in extracorporeal life support increased with the confluence of 2 events in 2009: (1) the publication of a randomized clinical trial of extracorporeal life support for acute respiratory failure and (2) the use of extracorporeal life support in patients with severe acute respiratory distress syndrome during the influenza A(H1N1) pandemic. In 2018, a randomized clinical trial in patients with very severe acute respiratory distress syndrome demonstrated a seemingly large decrease in mortality from 46% to 35%, but this difference was not statistically significant. However, a Bayesian post hoc analysis of this trial and a subsequent meta-analysis together suggested that extracorporeal life support was beneficial for patients with very severe acute respiratory distress syndrome. As the evidence supporting the use of extracorporeal life support increases, its indications are expanding to being a bridge to lung transplantation and the management of patients with pulmonary vascular disease who have right-sided heart failure. Extracorporeal life support is now an acceptable form of organ support in clinical practice.
Conclusions and Relevance
The role of extracorporeal life support in the management of adults with acute respiratory failure is being redefined by advances in technology and increasing evidence of its effectiveness. Future developments in the field will result from technological advances, an increased understanding of the physiology and biology of extracorporeal support, and increased knowledge of how it might benefit the treatment of a variety of clinical conditions.
Brodie D, Slutsky AS, Combes A. Extracorporeal Life Support for Adults With Respiratory Failure and Related Indications: A Review. JAMA. 2019;322(6):557–568. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.9302
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