Intravascular Hemolysis and Complications During Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation

Neoreviews. 2020 Nov;21(11):e728-e740

Hemolysis is an unavoidable side effect of current ECMO technology and there are no approved treatments or treatment guidelines for the neonatal population. Therefore, increased vigilance, recognition of the severity of the hemolytic process, and prompt management are essential to prevent severe endothelial injury leading to proinflammatory and prothrombotic events.

AddThis Sharing Buttons

Venovenous and venoarterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) remains a crucial lifesaving therapy for critically ill neonates with severe cardiorespiratory failure. Both the roller pump as well as the centrifugal pump are safe and efficient systems, and some red blood cell breakdown and hemolysis occurs in all ECMO systems. The roller pump functions by gravity whereas the centrifugal pump promotes the flow of blood by a magnetically driven spinning rotor to generate negative pressure. Extracorporeal Life Support Organization data indicate a significant increase in intravascular hemolysis in neonatal and pediatric patients receiving ECMO when the centrifugal pump is used compared with its use in adults. Risk factors for developing hemolysis during ECMO are small cannula size, high negative inlet pressure in the pump head, and thrombosis in the pump head and oxygenator. Excessive red blood cell breakdown and release of plasma free hemoglobin (pfHb) saturate physiologic neutralizing mechanisms such as haptoglobin and hemopexin. The increase in pro-oxidant and proinflammatory pfHb levels causes endothelial dysfunction in a dose-dependent manner. Hemolysis also increases the risk of in-hospital morbidities such as renal injury, direct hyperbilirubinemia, and thrombosis without an increase in mortality in patients receiving ECMO. Hemolysis is an unavoidable side effect of current ECMO technology and there are no approved treatments or treatment guidelines for the neonatal population. Therefore, increased vigilance, recognition of the severity of the hemolytic process, and prompt management are essential to prevent severe endothelial injury leading to proinflammatory and prothrombotic events.