Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation and Coronavirus Disease 2019 | JAMA Surgery | JAMA Network
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Comment & Response
January 27, 2021

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation and Coronavirus Disease 2019

Author Affiliations
  • 1The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Department of Anesthesiology, Columbus
JAMA Surg. 2021;156(4):401-402. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2020.6634

To the Editor We have read with great interest the report by Mustafa et al1 describing their venovenous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) experience in patients with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) acute respiratory distress syndrome.1 Specifically, we commend their use of a dual-stage right atrium–to–pulmonary artery cannula, thereby promoting right ventricular (RV) support. Right ventricular dysfunction is a well-described complication of acute respiratory distress syndrome and is associated with increased mortality.2 Given the distinct pathophysiology involving the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptor in combination with endothelial dysfunction, patients with COVID-19 acute respiratory distress syndrome may be at an increased risk of developing RV dysfunction.3 There have been multiple reports demonstrating RV failure in this particular patient population with abnormal RV longitudinal strain as an independent predictor of mortality.4 In our single-center experience, RV dysfunction in patients with COVID-19 supported with conventionally cannulated venovenous ECMO was common.

It is our belief that certain characteristics predispose patients with COVID-19 supported with ECMO to RV dysfunction. Of these factors, some may be iatrogenic in our zeal to avoid severe hypoxemia, while others are inherent to the disease process and patient characteristics.

Hyperactive delirium experienced by these patients is notoriously difficult to treat. The resultant use of sedatives may possess negative inotropic effects. Additionally, patient agitation also results in sympathetic surge, causing an increase in shunt fraction (ECMO flow:native flow), which in turn worsens hypoxemia and increases pulmonary vascular resistance. A common remedy for this phenomenon is the use of β-blockade to decrease cardiac output, which may further depress an already strained RV. Furthermore, patients with COVID-19 typically require longer runs of extracorporeal ECMO therapy, often with higher flows, potentially resulting in chronically elevated right-sided preload. Finally, obesity has been reported as a significant comorbidity in this population by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization COVID-19 registry. In our experience, obesity was a major risk factor for RV dysfunction while receiving ECMO. It is likely that obesity acts synergistically with already altered respiratory mechanics by further promoting atelectasis, barotrauma, and pulmonary hypertension. Moreover, obesity has been found to have a direct effect on RV size, mass, and function in the general population.5

A myriad of factors may contribute to RV dysfunction in patients with COVID-19, and these effects can be exacerbated by interventions introduced during venovenous ECMO. Using a dual-stage right atrium–to–pulmonary artery cannula takes the RV out of the equation, potentially contributing to the decreased mortality reported by the authors.1 We await further details of their experience with great excitement.

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Rafal Kopanczyk, DO, Clinical Division of Critical Care, Department of Anesthesiology, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, 515 Doan Hall, 410 W 10th Ave, Columbus, OH 43210 (rafal.kopanczyk@osumc.edu).

Published Online: January 27, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2020.6634

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Mustafa  AK, Alexander  PJ, Joshi  DJ,  et al.  Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation for patients with COVID-19 in severe respiratory failure.   JAMA Surg. 2020;155(10):990-992. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2020.3950PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
Bunge  JJH, Caliskan  K, Gommers  D, Reis Miranda  D.  Right ventricular dysfunction during acute respiratory distress syndrome and veno-venous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.   J Thorac Dis. 2018;10(suppl 5):S674-S682. doi:10.21037/jtd.2017.10.75PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
Varga  Z, Flammer  AJ, Steiger  P,  et al.  Endothelial cell infection and endotheliitis in COVID-19.   Lancet. 2020;395(10234):1417-1418. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30937-5PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
Li  Y, Li  H, Zhu  S,  et al.  Prognostic value of right ventricular longitudinal strain in patients with COVID-19.   JACC Cardiovasc Imaging. 2020;13(11):2287-2299. doi:10.1016/j.jcmg.2020.04.014Google ScholarCrossref
Chahal  H, McClelland  RL, Tandri  H,  et al.  Obesity and right ventricular structure and function: the MESA-Right Ventricle Study.   Chest. 2012;141(2):388-395. doi:10.1378/chest.11-0172PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
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