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Open access

CRITICAL CARE ECHO ROUNDS: Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation

Kelly Victor, Nicholas A Barrett, Stuart Gillon, Abigail Gowland, Christopher I S Meadows, and Nicholas Ioannou

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is an advanced form of organ support indicated in selected cases of severe cardiovascular and respiratory failure. Echocardiography is an invaluable diagnostic and monitoring tool in all aspects of ECMO support. The unique nature of ECMO, and its distinct effects upon cardio-respiratory physiology, requires the echocardiographer to have a sound understanding of the technology and its interaction with the patient. In this article, we introduce the key concepts underpinning commonly used modes of ECMO and discuss the role of echocardiography.


A 38-year-old lady, with no significant past medical history, was admitted to her local hospital with group A Streptococcal pneumonia. Rapidly progressive respiratory failure ensued and, despite intubation and maximal ventilatory support, adequate oxygenation proved impossible. She was attended by the regional severe respiratory failure service who established her on veno-venous (VV)-ECMO for respiratory support. Systemic oxygenation improved; however, significant cardiovascular compromise was encountered and echocardiography demonstrated a severe septic cardiomyopathy (ejection fraction <15%, aortic velocity time integral 5.9 cm and mitral regurgitation dP/dt 672 mmHg/s). Her ECMO support was consequently converted to a veno-veno-arterial configuration, thus providing additional haemodynamic support. As the sepsis resolved, arterial ECMO support was weaned under echocardiographic guidance; subsequent resolution of intrinsic respiratory function allowed the weaning of VV-ECMO support. The patient was liberated from ECMO 7 days after hospital admission.

Open access

Fulminant myocarditis: use of echocardiography from diagnosis to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation

Na Hyun Park, Hazem Lashin, and Rosalba Spiritoso


Fulminant myocarditis can present with life-threatening arrhythmias and cardiogenic shock due to ventricular failure. The diagnosis of myocarditis usually requires histological and immunological information, as its aetiology may be infectious (viral or non-viral), autoimmune or drug related. The treatment of fulminant myocarditis depends on the underlying cause but usually includes high dose systemic steroids as well as physiological support. Veno-arterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (V-A ECMO) can be used to support patients as a bridge to recovery by supporting biventricular function and decompressing the heart. V-A ECMO carries risks and complications of its own such as thrombus formation or bleeding. Different diagnostic modalities, such as transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) and transoesophageal echocardiogram (TOE), are central to the monitoring of progression of disease and recovery of heart function. This case highlights the importance of early recognition and early support with V-A ECMO in fulminant myocarditis, as well as the role of repeated echocardiography when weaning from physiological support.

Learning points:

  • Myocarditis is a life-threatening condition and early recognition of cardiac failure can be assisted with a bedside echocardiogram.

  • Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation is used as a bridging method of treatment for patients with cardiogenic failure in myocarditis but has its own risks related to anticoagulation and the procedure itself.

  • There are currently no standardised guidelines of when to wean a patient off extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, but echocardiography acts as an important guide to detect complications as well as cardiac recovery.

Open access

Echocardiographic assessment of myocardial function and mechanics during veno-venous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation

David G Platts, Kenji Shiino, Jonathan Chan, Darryl J Burstow, Gregory M Scalia, and John F Fraser


Transthoracic echocardiography (TTE) plays a fundamental role in the management of patients supported with extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). In light of fluctuating clinical states, serial monitoring of cardiac function is required. Formal quantification of ventricular parameters and myocardial mechanics offer benefit over qualitative assessment. The aim of this research was to compare unenhanced (UE) versus contrast-enhanced (CE) quantification of myocardial function and mechanics during ECMO in a validated ovine model.


Twenty-four sheep were commenced on peripheral veno-venous ECMO. Acute smoke-induced lung injury was induced in 21 sheep (3 controls). CE-TTE with Definity using Cadence Pulse Sequencing was performed. Two readers performed image analysis with TomTec Arena. End diastolic area (EDA, cm2), end systolic area (ESA, cm2), fractional area change (FAC, %), endocardial global circumferential strain (EGCS, %), myocardial global circumferential strain (MGCS, %), endocardial rotation (ER, degrees) and global radial strain (GRD, %) were evaluated for UE-TTE and CE-TTE.


Full data sets are available in 22 sheep (92%). Mean CE EDA and ESA were significantly larger than in unenhanced images. Mean FAC was almost identical between the two techniques. There was no significant difference between UE and CE EGCS, MGCS and ER. There was significant difference in GRS between imaging techniques. Unenhanced inter-observer variability was from 0.48–0.70 but significantly improved to 0.71–0.89 for contrast imaging in all echocardiographic parameters.


Semi-automated methods of myocardial function and mechanics using CE-TTE during ECMO was feasible and similar to UE-TTE for all parameters except ventricular areas and global radial strain. Addition of contrast significantly decreased inter-observer variability of all measurements.

Open access

Diagnostic echocardiography in an unstable intensive care patient

R Gray, F Baldwin, and S Bruemmer-Smith


A previously fit and well 57-year-old gentleman who had recently undergone a colonoscopy and biopsy of a polyp presented with a 4-day history of progressive breathlessness and abdominal discomfort. The day after admission, he became haemodynamically unstable, developed ischaemic legs and suffered a brief cardiac arrest. Blood tests demonstrated a coagulopathy and hypoglycaemia. Continued haemodynamic instability post-arrest and clinical findings of high right-sided heart pressures were investigated by bedside screening echocardiogram. This demonstrated a massive pericardial effusion causing tamponade of the right ventricle. Heavily blood stained pericardial fluid was drained, with marked improvement in haemodynamic stability. Retrospective review of the admission-electrocardiogram (ECG) and chest X-ray demonstrated electrical alternans and cardiac enlargement. The differential diagnosis included bowel malignancy causing a haemorrhagic metastatic pericardial effusion and a type A aortic dissection. Therefore a computerised tomography (CT) scan of chest, abdomen, pelvis and aorta was performed. This was negative for disseminated malignancy and showed a type B aortic dissection, but was inconclusive for a type A aortic dissection. A subsequent transoesophageal echocardiogram confirmed the diagnosis of type B dissection and ruled out a type A dissection. The histology of the colonic polyp was negative for malignancy, but it was subsequently discovered that the patient had metastatic adenocarcinoma from a primary lung cancer diagnosed from pleural fluid cytology. With hindsight the presenting clinical picture was of type B aortic dissection with concurrent but not directly related pericardial tamponade.

Learning points

  • Basic echocardiography skills are increasingly being used acutely by physicians' as part of resuscitative care in intensive care unit (ICU) patients.

  • The availability of expert skills in transoesophageal echocardiography are essential in ICU, as demonstrated in this case, where it was needed for discriminating between sub types of aortic dissection.

  • Cardiac tamponade is a clinical diagnosis, although the presence of electrical alternans on an ECG with associated tachycardia is highly suggestive of cardiac tamponade.

Open access

CRITICAL CARE ECHO ROUNDS: Haemodynamic instability

Ashraf Roshdy, Nadia Francisco, Alejandro Rendon, Stuart Gillon, and David Walker

The use of echocardiography, whilst well established in cardiology, is a relatively new concept in critical care medicine. However, in recent years echocardiography's potential as both a diagnostic tool and a form of advanced monitoring in the critically ill patient has been increasingly recognised. In this series of Critical Care Echo Rounds, we explore the role of echocardiography in critical illness, beginning here with haemodynamic instability. We discuss the pathophysiology of the shock state, the techniques available to manage haemodynamic compromise, and the unique role which echocardiography plays in this complex process.


A 69-year-old female presents to the emergency department with a fever, confusion and pain on urinating. Her blood pressure on arrival was 70/40, with heart rate of 117 bpm Despite 3 l of i.v. fluid she remained hypotensive. A central venous catheter was inserted and noradrenaline infusion commenced, and she was admitted to the intensive care unit for management of her shock state. At 6 h post admission, she was on high dose of noradrenaline (0.7 μg/kg per min) but blood pressure remained problematic. An echocardiogram was requested to better determine her haemodynamic state.

Open access

Sudden cardiac arrest and coexisting mitral valve prolapse: a case report and literature review

Mohamed Ahmed, Ashraf Roshdy, Rajan Sharma, and Nick Fletcher


The aetiology of sudden cardiac arrest can often be identified to underlying cardiac pathology. Mitral valve prolapse is a relatively common valvular pathology with symptoms manifesting with increasing severity of mitral regurgitation (MR). It is unusual for severe MR to be present without symptoms, and there is growing evidence that this subset of patients may be at increased risk of sudden cardiac arrest or death. The difficulty lies in identifying those patients at risk and applying measures that are appropriate to halting progression to cardiac arrest. This article examines the association of mitral valve prolapse with cardiac arrests, the underlying pathophysiological process and the strategies for identifying those at risk.

Open access

Large, mobile, transmitral metastastic osteosarcoma presenting as cardiac arrest

Clare M Jackson, Helen E Ellis, Mark C Dodd, and Laurence O'Toole


The present case is an unusual one of a 21-year-old female with a primary osteosarcoma and left lung metastasis presenting following a witnessed pulseless electrical activity cardiac arrest. The electrocardiogram was unremarkable. A computed tomography pulmonary angiogram (CTPA) demonstrated a tumour within the left inferior pulmonary veins. Transthoracic echocardiography (TTE) revealed a severely hypokinetic left ventricle and a multi-lobulated, mobile mass arising from one of the left pulmonary veins which prolapsed to varying degrees on a beat-to-beat basis back and forth through the mitral valve into the left ventricle (during ventricular diastole) and retracted back into the left atrium (during ventricular systole). The present case demonstrates the importance of performing TTE in an emergency presentation, its influence on diagnosis and, in the present case, its usefulness in aiding the decision to withdraw life-sustaining treatments. It also highlights the importance of considering urgent intervention for a tumour seen to prolapse through the mitral valve because of the real risk of acute obstruction.

Learning points

  • The present case emphasises the importance of thorough clinical assessment in triggering TTE assessment in a critical care setting.

  • TTE is a portable, radiation-free imaging modality that can aid rapid diagnosis in a deteriorating patient and guide an informed management plan.

  • Many district general hospitals in the UK lack cardiology support and access to echocardiography ‘out-of-hours’. TTE, in the hands of an experienced operator, is an invaluable tool in the emergency assessment and management of critically unwell patients and should be available 24 h a day, 7 days a week.

  • Echosonographers and physicians seeing similar dynamic tumour pathology with variable transmission through the mitral valve should bear in mind acute obstruction as a potential consequence and thus consider urgent intervention.

Open access

CRITICAL CARE ECHO ROUNDS: Echo in cardiac arrest

Andreas Zafiropoulos, Kaleab Asrress, Simon Redwood, Stuart Gillon, and David Walker

Management of medical cardiac arrest is challenging. The internationally agreed approach is highly protocolised with therapy and diagnosis occurring in parallel. Early identification of the precipitating cause increases the likelihood of favourable outcome. Echocardiography provides an invaluable diagnostic tool in this context. Acquisition of echo images can be challenging in cardiac arrest and should occur in a way that minimises disruption to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). In this article, the reversible causes of cardiac arrest are reviewed with associated echocardiography findings.


A 71-year-old patient underwent right upper lobectomy for lung adenocarcinoma. On the 2nd post-operative day, he developed respiratory failure with rising oxygen requirement and right middle and lower lobe collapse and consolidation on chest X-ray. He was commenced on high-flow oxygen therapy and antibiotics. His condition continued to deteriorate and on the 3rd post-operative day he was intubated and mechanically ventilated. Six hours after intubation, he became suddenly hypotensive with a blood pressure of 50 systolic and then lost cardiac output. ECG monitoring showed pulseless electrical activity. CPR was commenced and return of circulation occurred after injection of 1 mg of adrenaline. Focused echocardiography was performed, which demonstrated signs of massive pulmonary embolism. Thrombolytic therapy with tissue plasminogen activator was given and his condition stabilised.

Open access

Acute myocarditis secondary to cardiac tuberculosis: a case report

Alice Cowley, Laura Dobson, John Kurian, and Christopher Saunderson

Isolated myocardial involvement in tuberculosis is exceedingly rare but there are reports it can present with sudden cardiac death, atrioventricular block, ventricular arrhythmias or congestive cardiac failure. We report the case of a 33-year-old male, of South Asian descent, who presented with chest pain, shortness of breath and an abnormal ECG. The patient had no significant past medical history and coronary angiogram showed no evidence of coronary artery disease. Of note, the patient had recently been discharged from a local district hospital with an episode of myocarditis. The patient was found to be severely hypoxic with evidence of severe biventricular failure on echocardiography. Computed tomography of the chest demonstrated hilar lymphadenopathy, and the differential diagnosis was thought to be tuberculosis or sarcoidosis. A TB Quantiferon gold test performed at the district hospital was positive; however, fine needle aspiration was negative for acid-fast bacilli. Despite aggressive diuresis, the patient became increasingly hypoxic and suffered a cardiac arrest. Post-mortem confirmed a diagnosis of myocardial tuberculosis – a rare case of acute decompensated heart failure.

Learning points:

  • Tuberculosis myocarditis is a rare diagnosis but should be considered in at risk individuals presenting with acute fulminant myocarditis.

  • Cardiac failure can occur even in the absence of disseminated tubercular disease.

  • TB myocarditis is not just a disease of the immunocompromised.

  • Definitive diagnosis of cardiac tuberculosis during life requires a myocardial biopsy.

  • Echocardiography is a vital tool for the assessment of cardiac function, filling pressures and fluid status in the critically unwell patient.

Open access

Measuring and monitoring quality in satellite echo services within critical care: an exploration of best practice

Toby C Thomas and Claire L Colebourn

The subspecialty of critical care echocardiography is a rapidly developing area of cardiac imaging. The United Kingdom Committee for Critical Care Echocardiography was set up in 2009 to examine the remit of echocardiography in critical care, and a successful collaboration between the British Society of Echocardiography (BSE) and the Intensive Care Society has resulted in the establishment of two new critical care accreditation processes: Focused Intensive Care Echocardiography and Advanced Critical Care Echocardiography. These accreditation processes are currently driving the development of satellite echo services within critical care departments throughout the UK. Individual practitioner – and more recently, departmental – accreditation have become well-established processes advocated by the BSE. Practitioner accreditation promotes accountability, and departmental accreditation standardises the environment in which practitioners operate. The accreditation of individual echocardiographers has been embraced by the critical care fraternity; we propose that departmental accreditation for critical care echo services be viewed in the same way. Identifying quality indicators for satellite echocardiography services within critical care areas is therefore the focus of the present quality exploration: our aim is to propose a set of parameters against which satellite critical care echo services can be benchmarked. In publishing our suggestions, we hope to stimulate debate in light of the rapid evolution of critical care echocardiography as a subspecialty practice. We suggest that our proposed parameters could be used to maintain satellite critical care service standards and to help identify departments capable of delivering high-quality services and training in critical care echocardiography.