Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Extracorporeal Carbon Dioxide Removal for the Exacerbation of Chronic Hypercapnic Respiratory Diseases

Written By

Luis Morales-Quinteros and Antonio Artigas

Submitted: 11 November 2018 Reviewed: 04 February 2019 Published: 04 May 2019

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.84936

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In the past, treatment of acute exacerbations of obstructive disease refractory to medical treatment was invasive mechanical ventilation. As a result of technical improvements, extracorporeal techniques for carbon dioxide removal have aroused as an attractive option to avoid worsening respiratory failure and respiratory acidosis and potentially prevent, shorten the duration of invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV), and serve as rescue therapy in patients with exacerbation of COPD and asthma. In this review, we will present a comprehensive summary of the pathophysiological rationale and evidence of ECCO2R in patients with severe exacerbations of these pathologies.


  • COPD
  • asthma
  • ECCO2R
  • invasive mechanical ventilation
  • noninvasive mechanical ventilation

1. Introduction

Patients with obstructive lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), may experience acute exacerbations with severe hypercapnic respiratory failure. Hypercapnia results from acute worsening of expiratory flow limitation caused by the increased small airway resistance with consequent development of dynamic alveolar hyperinflation and intrinsic PEEP. In the most severe cases, these may be refractory to conventional therapies and mechanical ventilation, becoming life-threatening.

Extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal (ECCO2R) represents an attractive approach in this setting.

The last decade has seen an increasing interest in the provision of extracorporeal support for respiratory failure, as demonstrated by the progressively increasing number of scientific publications on this topic. In particular, remarkable interest has been focused on ECCO2R, due to the relative ease and efficiency in blood CO2 clearance granted by extracorporeal gas exchangers as compared to oxygen delivery (Table 1).

Cannulas Large cannulas Double lumen catheter
Blood flow High extracorporeal flow (2000–>5000 ml/min) Low flow, respiratory dialysis (250–1000 ml/min)
Membrane oxygenator Large membrane oxygenator Medium size oxygenator
Oxygenation Full blood oxygenation No blood oxygenation
CO2 removal Full blood decarboxylation Partial blood decarboxylation
Heparin requirements High Higher than ECMO
Setting High technicity, ECMO center Regular ICU

Table 1.

ECMO and ECCO2R differences.

In recent years, new-generation ECCO2R devices have been developed. More efficient veno-venous (VV-ECCO2R) devices have become available and have replaced the arteriovenous approach, having the advantage of not requiring arterial puncture.

They offer lower resistance to blood flow, have small priming volumes, and have a much more efficient gas exchange [1] with relatively low extracorporeal blood flows (0.4–1 L/min). With ECCO2R the patient’s PaCO2 is principally determined by the rate of fresh gas flow through the membrane lung [2]. These devices are now comparable to renal dialysis equipment, which is routinely used safely as standard care in ICU.

This approach has been the subject of many animal experiments and human case series demonstrating improved arterial CO2 and work of breathing [3, 4, 5, 6].


2. Pathophysiological rationale for ECCO2R

Both in asthma and COPD exacerbations, diffuse narrowing of the airways results in profound physiologic consequences. Airway narrowing prevents the lungs from completely emptying (“air trapping”) due to resistance to expiratory flow and bronchial closure at higher than average lung volumes. Air trapping results in dynamic hyperinflation (DHI) [7] which is the excessive increase in end-expiratory lung volume above the relaxation volume of the respiratory system, generating intrinsic positive end-expiratory pressure (auto-PEEP) [8]. As a result, the patient breathes at higher total lung volumes, depending on increased residual volume [9] which reduces tidal ventilation. The net effect is that the work of breathing increases significantly. The diaphragm, intercostal muscles, and even the abdominal muscles are overloaded causing respiratory muscle fatigue and dyspnea.

Pharmacotherapy with bronchodilators and systemic corticosteroids are the cornerstones of medical therapy, designed to reduce this pathophysiological airflow obstruction and improve symptoms.

Patients suffering from a combination of persistent or worsening hypercapnia, respiratory muscle fatigue, and a decline in mental status require mechanical ventilation (MV) along with lung-protective ventilator strategies (e.g., low-tidal-volume ventilation, relatively short inspiratory time and longer expiratory times) [10, 11].

The goal of mechanical ventilation is to provide adequate gas exchange while waiting for airflow obstruction to respond to bronchodilator therapy. However, mechanical ventilation may aggravate alveolar hyperinflation by worsening DHI, which may lead to worsened hypercapnia, barotrauma, and alveolar rupture leading to pneumothorax and further hemodynamic deterioration [12].

Furthermore, during mechanical ventilation, these patients receive sedatives or neuromuscular blockade to facilitate ventilatory support [13]. Sedation and paralysis preclude mobilization, promoting muscular deconditioning and potentially contributing to the long-term cognitive sequelae of critical illness [14].

When conventional therapeutic options are not successful, novel therapies such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation are entertained as a possible salvage therapeutic modality.

During exacerbation relieving the native lung from at least part of the CO2 elimination with ECCO2R could potentially improve the acid–base balance, reduce patient’s work of breathing with a consequent reduction in respiratory rate and ventilatory drive, and lower alveolar ventilation. The application of ECCO2R may allow lower tidal volumes and respiratory rate, resulting in the extension of the expiratory time, suiting better the high expiratory time constant of the respiratory system with expiratory flow limitation. By these physiological mechanisms, ECCO2R can counteract the vicious circle of dynamic hyperinflation and its detrimental respiratory and cardiovascular consequences. The derived beneficial effects on respiratory mechanics, ventilatory muscle efficiency, work of breathing, and cardiovascular function may improve gas exchanges and relieve dyspnea, thus potentially preventing NIV failure or facilitate weaning from IMV, and, also by rapidly decreasing and weaning off sedation, reduce the rates of delirium, reduce feeding problems, and allow social contacts with friends and family, as well as allow sufficient physiotherapy to reduce myopathy and critical care illness [14].


3. ECCO2R technical aspects and principle

ECCO2R is designed to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) and, unlike extracorporeal membrane oxygen (ECMO), does not provide significant oxygenation.

The device consists of a drainage cannula placed in a large central vein or artery, a membrane lung, and a return cannula into the venous system (Figure 1). Blood is pumped through the membrane lung, and CO2 is removed by diffusion. A flowing gas known as “sweep gas” containing little or no CO2 runs along the other side of the membrane, ensuring a diffusion gradient from blood to another side, allowing CO2 removal.

Figure 1.

ECCO2R common configurations. (A) Minimally invasive veno-venous ECCO2R system with a single venous vascular access through a double lumen cannula that can be inserted in the internal jugular or femoral vein (B) Pumpless arteriovenous ECCO2R system with the placement of the membrane in the circuit connecting the femoral artery with the contralateral vein.

In contrast to ECMO, where the need for oxygenation requires high blood flow rates, ECCO2R allows much lower blood flow rates, a result of significant differences in CO2 and oxygen (O2) kinetics. Almost all the O2 in blood is carried by hemoglobin, which displays sigmoidal saturation kinetics. Assuming normal hemoglobin and venous O2, each liter of venous blood can only carry an extra 40–60 ml of O2 before the hemoglobin is fully saturated. Blood flows of 5–7 L/min are therefore required to supply enough O2 for an average adult. Conversely, most CO2 is transported as dissolved bicarbonate, displaying linear kinetics without saturation. Considering that 1 L of blood is transported around 500 mL of CO2, a perfectly efficient system flow of 0.5 L/min would be enough to remove all of the CO2 produced [1, 15, 16]. Also, CO2 diffuses more readily than O2 across extracorporeal membranes because of higher solubility. However, in practice, ECCO2R is usually able to remove up to 25% of carbon dioxide production given the limitations of blood flow, blood CO2 content, hemoglobin, and membrane efficiency [17].


In the veno-venous configuration, blood is drawn from a central vein by a draining cannula, using a centrifugal or roller pump to generate flow across the membrane. CO2 diffuses into the “sweep gas” and is returned into the venous circulation (Figure 1A). Single site cannulation is possible using a double lumen cannula. This approach allows low flow through the use of smaller cannulas (15–19F), commonly introduced via the right internal jugular vein. The setup is very similar to renal replacement therapy, and in fact, some systems are trying to combine the two in one [18, 19] (NCT02590575). One of the advantages of VV-ECCO2R compared to the AV approach is the less invasiveness by the omission of the arterial cannulation and facilitates early mobilization of patients. It is also possible to set up an ECCO2R system through cannulation of two central veins, one for drainage and the other for reinfusion (femoral-femoral configuration).


One ECCO2R configuration is through percutaneous cannulation of the femoral artery to the contralateral femoral vein and creating an arteriovenous (AV) bypass, equipped with an artificial gas exchanger membrane across the AV shunt which acts as a “sweep gas” to remove CO2 that has diffused out of the patient’s blood (Figure 1B). In this configuration, pumpless systems require an arteriovenous pressure gradient ≥60 mmHg and a cardiac index >3 L/min/m2, which is unsuitable for hemodynamically unstable patients [16, 20]. Further, cannulation of a major artery can result in distal ischemia [21], although measuring the artery diameter with ultrasound and selecting a cannula that occupies no more than 70% of the lumen reduce this risk [22].


4. Indications and evidence

4.1 Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a significant worldwide health burden. Currently, it is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, is the only leading cause of death that is rising, and will likely become the third cause of death by 2020 [23, 24]. COPD is characterized by progressive destruction in the elastic tissue within the lung, causing respiratory failure.

Acute exacerbations of COPD (aeCOPD) constitute a significant cause of morbidity and mortality among these patients. Patients with moderate to severe acute exacerbations develop alveolar hyperinflation that may lead to increased work of breathing, muscle fatigue, and hypercapnia, creating a vicious loop refractory to medical treatment [25, 26, 27]. The standard respiratory support in this setting in order to break this cycle is noninvasive ventilation (NIV). However, despite the significantly decreased mortality with the emergence of NIV, up to 30% of patients with aeCOPD will “fail” and require intubation and invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV) [28, 29, 30]. For patients requiring respiratory support with IMV, in-hospital mortality in recent meta-analysis and observational studies has been reported to be as high as 25–39% [31, 32, 33, 34].

Patients with COPD requiring IMV develop a considerable reduction in respiratory muscle strength, having a higher risk of prolonged weaning and failure to wean compared to other causes of acute hypercapnic respiratory failure. Up to 60% of the ventilatory time is devoted to these patients to the process of weaning [35], and they are very likely to require a tracheotomy. Having a prolonged time spent under IMV is not surprising an increase in the incidence of ventilator-associated pneumonia and complications associated with the use of invasive mechanical ventilation such ventilator-induced lung injury (VILI), ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), ventilator-associated diaphragmatic dysfunction (VIDD), and a range of neurological disorders associated with prolonged sedation and immobilization.

4.1.1 Evidence and clinical trials of ECCO2R in aeCOPD to date

One of the first reports on the application of ECCO2R to support respiratory function of a COPD patient was published in 1990 by Pesenti et al. [36]. However, the technique was abandoned due to technical complications.

As the medical community regained interest in ECCO2R, investigators began applying the technique to prevent intubation or to assist weaning from the ventilator in patients with hypercapnic aeCOPD. Several studies in both VV and AV configurations were published, including a meta-analysis (Table 2).

Study No of patients ECCO2R characteristics Time on ECCO2R Major results
Configuration Blood flow (mL/min) Sweep flow (L/min) Membrane (material); surface in m2
ECCO2R to avoid mechanical ventilation
Kluge et al. [5] 21 Femoral AV with 13- to 15-Fr arterial cannula and 13- to 17-Fr venous cannula 1100 Not reported PMP*; 1.3 (iLA®) 9 days 19 (90%) PECLA patients did not require intubation
Two major and seven minor bleeding complications during PECLA
No significant difference in 28-day (24 vs. 19%, p = 0.85), 6-month mortality (33 vs. 33%), or hospital length of stay (23 vs. 42 days, p = 0.06)
Significantly fewer tracheostomies in PECLA group (10 vs. 67%, p = 0.004)
Del Sorbo et al. [4] 25 Modified continuous VV hemofiltration system with membrane
lung via 14-Fr single dual-lumen cannula (femoral)
255 8 PLP**; 1.35 (Hemodec DecapSmart®) 1–2 days Significantly higher risk of intubation in NIV-only group (HR 0.27; 95% CI 0.07–0.98)
13 patients experienced adverse events: 3 had bleeding, 1 had vein perforation, and 9 had device malfunction
Braune et al. [39] 25 VV configuration via a 22 or 24-Fr single dual-lumen cannula (femoral or jugular) 1300 Not reported PMP; 1.3 (Novalung iLA Activve) 8.5 days Intubation was avoided in 14 out of all 25 ECCO2R patients (56%)
Seven ECCO2R patients were intubated because of progressive hypoxemia and four due to ventilatory failure despite ECCO2R and NIV
Nine ECCO2R patients (36%) suffered from major bleeding complications
90-day mortality rates were 28 vs. 28%
ECCO2R to wean from mechanical ventilation
Abrams et al. [3] 5 VV configuration via a 20- to 24-Fr single dual-lumen jugular
catheter using lower flow on ECMO system
1700 1–7 PMP; 0.98 (Maquet PALP CardioHelp) 8 days Mean (SD) time to ambulation after ECCO2R initiation was 29.4 ± 12.6 h
Four patients were discharged home, and one underwent planned lung transplantation
Only two minor bleeding complications
Cardenas et al. [42] 1 VV configuration with pediatric dual-lumen jugular cannula 800 10 PMP; 1.8 (Quadrox-d, Maquet) 3.6 days Patient extubated 48 h after decannulation. No complications reported
Roncon et al. [43]
ECCO2R with mixed indications
Burki [38] 20 VV configuration via a 15.5-Fr single dual-lumen catheter (femoral or jugular) 430 Not reported PLP with a base of siloxane layer; 0.59 (ALung Hemolung RAS) 2–192 h 20 hypercapnic COPD patients received ECCO2R in three distinct groups: group 1 (n = 7) NIV patients with
high risk of IMV; group 2 (n = 2) could not be weaned from NIV; and group 3 (n = 11) on IMV and failed to wean
IMV avoided in all patient in group 1
Both patients in group 2 weaned from NIV
In group 3, three patients weaned, and IMV was reduced in two patients
One patient died due to a retroperitoneal hemorrhage (during cannulation)

Table 2.

Relevant clinical studies of ECCO2R in COPD.

PMP: poly-4-methyl-1-pentene.

PLP: polypropylene.

4.1.2 ECCO2R to avoid IMV

Brederlau et al. [37] described their experience in three patients that failed NIV for severe aeCOPD. They applied a pumpless AV ECCO2R device with the goal of avoiding endotracheal intubation. Shortly after beginning ECCO2R, PaCO2 fell significantly (from 91, 109, and 142 mmHg to 52, 59, and 83 mmHg, respectively), while pH rose (from 7.2, 7.19, and 7.06 to 7.41, 7.43, and 7.34, respectively). Simultaneously, the respiratory rate dropped from 38, 45, and 37 breaths/min to 15, 25, and 18 breaths/min, respectively. The ECCO2R flow ranged between 1.1 and 1.6 L/min, with the sweep gas flow varying from 3 to 10 L/min.

Kluge et al. [5] in the same year evaluated the safety and efficacy of using AV pumpless extracorporeal lung assist (PECLA) in 21 COPD patients who did not respond to NIV compared to 21 matched controls. The use of PECLA was associated with a decrease in PaCO2 levels and improved pH after 24 h and obviated the need for intubation and IMV in 90% of the experimental arm. Although the experimental group demonstrated a shorter length of stay, a retrospective analysis with the control group showed no significant difference in mortality at 28 days (19% with ECCO2R vs. 24% without ECCO2R) or 6 months (both groups 33%).

In the study by Burki et al. [38], 20 hypercapnic patients with COPD were treated with ECCO2R using a 15.5-Fr dual-lumen cannula allowing a mean blood flow of 430 mL/min. Of the 20 patients recruited into the trial, 7 were at risk of MV despite NIV, 2 were difficult to wean from NIV, and 11 had failed liberation from MV. None of the patients failing NIV required endotracheal intubation, and both patients with difficult weaning from NIV were weaned. However, only 3 of the 11 IMV patients were liberated successfully. Moreover, significant complications arose in a number of patients: bleeding requiring blood transfusion was reported in three patients, deep vein thrombosis was diagnosed in one patient after removal of the ECCO2R catheter, one patient experienced pneumothorax due to catheter insertion, and one died from hemorrhage when the iliac vein was perforated during ECCO2R catheter placement.

Del Sorbo et al. [4] examined 25 patients with NIV + ECCO2R versus NIV alone (historical controls n = 21) for prevention of intubation in aeCOPD. They reported that ECCO2R with a 14-Fr dual-lumen catheter and blood flow rates of 177–333 mL/min not only improved respiratory acidosis but also reduced the need for intubation by 75% (12 vs. 33%; p = 0.047) and significantly reduced the in-hospital mortality (8 vs. 35%; p = 0.035). However, this came with a cost of 52% prevalence of ECCO2R-related side effects and led the authors to suggest the end point of future studies should be long-term mortality.

In the ECLAIR study, Braune et al. [39] showed that IMV was avoided in 56% of cases treated with ECCO2R but was associated with a higher incidence of complications. However, several significant differences must be taken into account. In the latter study, there was an inclusion of patients with relative contraindications to NIV, and there was an unexpectedly high incidence of hypoxemic patients [40].

Finally, Morelli et al. [41] and colleagues confirmed the efficacy of ECCO2R (with a flow rate of 250–450 mL/min through a 13-Fr dual-lumen cannula) in reducing the PaCO2 in a series of 30 patients with acute hypercapnic respiratory failure due to aeCOPD, who refused endotracheal intubation after failing NIV. The duration of ECCO2R was 2–16 days, and it was possible to prevent endotracheal intubation in 27 patients.

4.1.3 ECCO2R to facilitate weaning from IMV

Cardenas et al. [42] made the first attempt to use modern ECLS components for VV ECCO2R in a patient with aeCOPD. They demonstrated a successful reduction in PaCO2, minute ventilation, and ventilator pressures.

Burki et al. [38] showed that in a subgroup of 11 patients receiving IMV, ECCO2R allowed the weaning from mechanical ventilator in only 3 patients.

Abrams and colleagues [3] reported five older patients (age 73 ± 8.7 years) with aeCOPD who failed NIV, requiring IMV. After an average of 16.5 ± 5.9 h of IMV, ECCO2R was initiated. By using a dual-lumen cannula (20–23 Fr) with blood flow rates of 1–1.7 L/min and with a sweep gas flow from 1 to 7 L/min, they were able to extubate all five patients within 24 h of treatment (median duration of MV post ECCO2R = 4 h, range 1.5–21.5 h). Once extubated, patients were rehabilitated while on ECCO2R, with a mean time to ambulation of 29.4 ± 12.6 h after ECCO2R. Moreover, all patients survived to hospital discharge.

Using a pediatric VV ECMO system (with blood flow rates of 0.9 L/min through a 19 Fr dual-lumen cannula placed in the right jugular vein) in two patients with aeCOPD, Roncon-Albuquerque Jr. et al. reported early extubation after 72 h and patient mobilization out of bed at day 6 [43].

4.1.4 Reviews of ECCO2R in COPD

Sklar et al. [44] reviewed 10 studies of ECCO2R for aeCOPD and a total of 87 patients, to examine cumulative safety and efficacy. They reported that ECCO2R was able to prevent intubation in 65 (93%) of 70 patients and assist in successful extubation of 9 (53%) of 17 patients. There were a total of 11 major complications and 30 minor complications. Half of all patients experienced complications related to ECCO2R, and half of those complications were related to bleeding (21/41). No study showed any evidence of increased mortality or increased length of intensive care unit (ICU) or hospital stay with ECCO2R.

In a recent publication, Taccone et al. [45] performed a systematic review of ECCO2R in adult critically ill patients. Three of the six studies included in the review evaluated patients with COPD that developed hypercapnic respiratory failure [4, 5, 39]. In all the three studies, the reduction of PaCO2 was reported within a few hours following the initiation of ECCO2R. Median values decreased from 73 to 88 mmHg to 34–66 mmHg. Regarding the duration of mechanical ventilation, only one described no significant difference between ECCO2R and the controlled group [4]. The need for endotracheal intubation was significantly reduced from 53/67 (79%) to 16/71 (22% p < 0.001). However, neither ICU nor hospital length of stay was statistically significantly reduced.

Based on the existing data, we believe that the ideal trial for ECCO2R should be a randomized controlled trial designed such ECCO2R should be implemented within 12 h of intubation after failing to show improvement (i.e., pH < 7.25 for persistent acidosis) with conventional therapy. Given the risks associated with the technique, it should be instituted once patients fail conventional treatment and require IMV. Patients should be randomized to ECCO2R plus IMV or standard IMV. Given the high rate of mortality associated with invasive mechanical ventilation, the study should be powered to demonstrate a mortality benefit, and secondary endpoints include ventilator-free days, transfusion requirements, and rates of ventilator-associated events.

More data will be forthcoming on the application of ECCO2R in the management of patients with COPD exacerbations from a number of ongoing or planned clinical trials (Table 3). number Title Type of study Hypothesis/primary outcome Estimated enrollment Device
ECCO2R to avoid mechanical ventilation
NCT02086084 Extracorporeal CO2 removal as an adjunct to noninvasive ventilation in acute severe exacerbations of COPD Randomized, controlled trial Addition of ECCO2R to NIV will shorten the duration of NIV and reduce the likelihood of intubation
Primary outcome: time to cessation of NIV defined as from NIV commencement to 6 h without NIV
24 patients Hemolung RAS
NCT03584295 Early extubation by ECCO2R compared to IMV in patients with severe acute exacerbation of COPD (X-COPD) Interventional, randomized with parallel assignment Advantage of VV-ECCO2R in severe acute exacerbation of COPD requiring invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV) to facilitate early extubation in terms of reducing mortality or severe disability
Primary outcome: death or severe disability
202 patients Not specified
NCT02564406 Extracorporeal CO2 removal in hypercapnic patients Interventional single-group trial Retrospectively assess the efficacy and safety of noninvasive ventilation-plus-extracorporeal CO2 removal in patients who fail NIV and refuse endotracheal intubation
Primary outcome: number of patients who avoided endotracheal intubation
35 patients ProLUNG [Estor]
NCT03692117 Extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal in severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbation Prospective cohort study Primary outcome: incidence of avoiding endotracheal intubation 30 patients Not specified
ECCO2R to facilitate liberation from mechanical ventilation
NCT02259335 Weaning from mechanical ventilation using extracorporeal CO2 removal (WeanPRO) Interventional single-group trial Weaning success avoiding reintubation after removal of ECCO2R 12 patients ProLUNG [Estor]
NCT02107222 The PALP™-COPD trial (low flow CO2-removal (ECCO2-R) in exacerbated COPD) (PALP-COPD) Multicenter, randomized, controlled trial To evaluate the clinical effect of PALP in reducing the time on invasive ventilation in patients with an exacerbation of COPD requiring invasive mechanical ventilation 120 patients PALP
ECCO2R as an alternative or adjunct to invasive mechanical ventilation
NCT03255057 Extracorporeal CO2 removal for mechanical ventilation avoidance during acute exacerbation of COPD (VENT-AVOID) Multicenter randomized controlled trial ECCO2R can be safely used to avoid or reduce time on invasive mechanical ventilation compared to COPD patients treated with standard-of-care mechanical ventilation alone
Primary outcome: ventilator-free days at day 60 from randomization
500 patients Hemolung
ECCO2R physiological studies
NCT02586948 Physiological study of minimally invasive ECCO2R in exacerbations of COPD requiring invasive mechanical ventilation (EPHEBE) Interventional single-group trial The addition of minimally invasive ECCO2R is likely to limit dynamic hyperinflation in COPD patients requiring invasive mechanical ventilation for an acute exacerbation while improving gas exchange
Primary outcome: PEEPi at baseline and after ECCO2R by the device and adjustment of ventilator settings, expressed in cmH20
12 patients Hemolung
NCT02590575 “Low Flow” CO2 removal on RRT Interventional single-group trial Test the effectiveness of a membrane gas exchange device in the veno-venous circulation of continuous renal replacement therapy for the purpose of CO2 elimination and pH compensation
The primary outcome is the modification of the PaCO2 and/or the ventilator settings (tidal volume VT and plateau pressure Pplat)
20 patients Prismalung

Table 3.

Ongoing clinical studies of ECCO2R in COPD.

4.2 Severe acute asthma

Asthma is an inflammatory disorder of the airways characterized by airway hyperactivity with bronchospasm, mucosal swelling, and mucus production.

The standard treatment of severe acute asthma consists of measures to reverse airflow obstruction. β2 agonists and steroids are the mainstays of treatment causing bronchodilation and anti-inflammatory effects, respectively [10]. Other available adjunct therapies including anticholinergics, magnesium sulfate, methylxanthines, ketamine, and heliox have been utilized with varying results [46].

Despite advances in asthma therapy, asthma mortality has remained stable in recent years. One reason is status asthmaticus, which can be unresponsive to initial treatment and may lead to hypercapnic respiratory failure despite maximal therapy.

Status asthmaticus, also known as severe acute asthma or near-fatal asthma, is a condition of progressively worsening bronchospasm and respiratory dysfunction due to asthma, which is unresponsive to standard conventional therapy and may progress to respiratory failure and the need for mechanical ventilation. The current indication of mechanical ventilation in a patient presenting with status asthmaticus is a clinical one and does not require a blood gas assessment. These include certain specific situations including alteration of consciousness, respiratory fatigue, or impending cardiopulmonary arrest.

Approximately, 4% of all patients hospitalized for acute asthma require mechanical ventilation, which is associated with increased in-hospital mortality compared with patients who do not require mechanical ventilation (7 vs. 0.2%) [47].

Furthermore, mechanical ventilation may aggravate alveolar hyperinflation as it was described above. To prevent the potential side effects caused by mechanical ventilation, ECCO2R has been applied as rescue therapy.

Extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal as an adjunct to the ventilator for refractory asthma was first reported in 1981 [48]. Subsequently, there have been several case reports (Table 4). In the international Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) registry, ECMO was used for asthma in 24 out of 1257 adult patients between 1986 and 2006. Before ECMO was started, the average pH was 7.17 ± 0.16, PaCO2 119.7 ± 58 mmHg, and PaO2/FiO2 244 ± 180 despite mechanical ventilation. Complications were described in 19 of 24 patients (79.2%) with a remarkable number of hemodynamic, hemorrhagic, and mechanical complications [49]. These data show that in patients treated with ECMO for status asthmaticus, hypercapnia, rather than hypoxemia, was the central exchange derangement, suggesting that a less invasive technique like ECCO2R will be suitable, with fewer complications. Although most of the clinical applications of ECCO2R for the treatment of obstructive lung diseases have been reported in patients with COPD, several cases describe ECCO2R in patients with near-fatal asthma [50, 51, 52, 53, 54] (Table 4).

Study ECCO2R technique Major findings
Sakai et al. [53] Extracorporeal lung assist (ECLA); 22-Fr drainage and 18-Fr return femoro-femoral cannula with a median blood flow rate of 1.7–2 L/min 23-year old
Gas exchange with IMV before ECCO2R: pH 7.02, paCO2 100 mmHg, PaO2 50 mmHg (FiO2 100%)
Weaning achieved after 20 h of ECLA was commenced
Extubation 2 days after ECLA
No complications reported
Elliot et al. [52] Femoral AV pumpless extracorporeal lung assist (PECLA)
15-Fr arterial cannula and 17-Fr venous cannula with a mean extracorporeal blood flow of 1.5 L/min
Case 1: 74-year old. Gas exchange with IMV before ECCO2R: pH 6.87, paCO2 147 mmHg. Extubation after 48 h of ECLA. Complications: Coagulation of membrane that needed changing. Bleeding through femoral artery
Case 2: 52-year old. Gas exchange with IMV before ECCO2R: pH 7.2, paCO2 130 mmHg. ECCO2R duration: 5 days
Extubated on intensive care day 11. No complications reported
Jung et al. [54] Femoral AV pumpless extracorporeal lung assist (PECLA)
15-Fr arterial cannula and 17-Fr venous cannula with a mean extracorporeal blood flow of >1.5 L/min
42-year old
No gas exchange before IMV reported. Patient successfully extubated and transferred from the ICU on day 14 of admission
No complications reported
Brenner et al. [50] Dual-lumen catheter 20–23 Fr bicaval, inserted into the right internal jugular vein with blood flow of 1.3–1.8 L/min Case 1: 48-year old. Gas exchange with IMV before ECCO2R: pH 6.94, paCO2 147 mmHg, PaO2 416 mmHg (FiO2 100%). Successfully extubated while on ECCO2R and discharged from ICU. No complications reported
Case 2: 59-year old. Gas exchange with IMV before ECCO2R: pH 7.12, paCO2 78 mmHg, PaO2 112 mmHg (FiO2 100%). ECCO2R duration: 9 days. Ventilator support discontinued on day 28 due to critical illness neuromyopathy
Schneider et al. [51] Awake dual-lumen catheter 22 Fr bicaval, inserted into the right internal jugular vein with blood flow of 0.6–1.5 L/min 67-year old
Gas exchange before ECCO2R (on NIV): pH 7.24, paCO2 61 mmHg, PaO2 289 mmHg (FiO2 100%)
Thirty-four hours after initiating ECCO2R, the patient was weaned entirely from NIV, and the cannula could be removed without any complication. On day 4, the patient was discharged from the ICU without the need for supplemental oxygen and 6 days later, discharged from hospital without any impairment

Table 4.

Case series of ECCO2R for near-fatal asthma.

IMV, invasive mechanical ventilation; NIV, noninvasive mechanical ventilation.

The first cases reported were by using a pumpless extracorporeal life assist (pECLA) device. Although no complications were described in these case series, a possible major complication may arise as a consequence of the arterial cannulation, such as lower limb ischemia [53]. Brenner et al. reported two cases using a venous double lumen catheter with successful survival results.

Taking into account the deleterious effects of mechanical ventilation and sedation, and the advantages of keeping the patient awake, recently, an awake approach using a double lumen cannula has been described [51]. NIV was used as ventilatory support. Thirty-four hours after starting the ECCO2R system, the patient was weaned entirely from NIV, and the cannula was removed without complications. The patient was discharged from the ICU on day 4 without supplemental oxygen and left the hospital on day 10. Although this is a tempting approach, several issues should be taken into account. Unexpected cannula displacement may be provoked by an interactive patient, resulting in significant hemorrhage and lethal shock, as a time to react is short. Patient discomfort, pain, and anxiety in the “awake” approach might be in such extent that starting deep sedation and mechanical ventilation is inevitable, losing all the advantages described before.


5. Complications

Although ECCO2R seems to be effective in improving or mitigating hypercapnic acidosis and possibly in reducing the rate of endotracheal intubation, its use is associated with a range of vascular, hematological, and other complications.

Arterial cannulation is associated with higher risk than venous catheterization, with specific complications including distal limb ischemia, compartment syndrome of the lower limb requiring fasciotomy, or limb amputation as devastating consequences [16].

The occurrence of bleeding events is the most frequent complications of ECCO2R. The low flow renders systemic anticoagulation mandatory, increasing the risk of significant bleeding including cerebral, gastrointestinal, and nasopharyngeal bleeds. In the studies of ECCO2R to date, the rate of clinically significant hemorrhagic complications ranges between 2 and 50% [44].

Thrombocytopenia and heparin-induced thrombocytopenia are also commonly observed.

Conversely, thrombus formation is higher at lower blood flow rates because of increased exposure time to the membrane lung and circuit. Clots may detach and enter the patient’s bloodstream, plugging the membrane or obstructing the cannula if anticoagulation is not achieved.


6. Conclusions

In the past, ECCO2R was a complex technique requiring intensive monitoring and surgical expertise. Due to a high rate of complications, it was avoided by all but a few high expertise centers. With newer simplified system, devices are placed like temporary dialysis catheters and can be inserted by most intensivists.

In summary, minimally invasive ECCO2R appears very promising for patients with acute exacerbation of obstructive diseases refractory to conventional treatment, but systemic evaluation is needed to prove its efficacy and determine the actual risks.



We want to acknowledge Eduardo Radicy for creating the figure for this manuscript. He was not compensated for this work.


Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they do not have conflicting interests.


AV-ECCO2Rarteriovenous extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal
COPDchronic obstructive pulmonary disease
CO2carbon dioxide
DHIdynamic hyperinflation
ECCO2Rextracorporeal carbon dioxide removal
ECMOextracorporeal membrane oxygenation
IMVinvasive mechanical ventilation
NIVnoninvasive ventilation
PECLApumpless extracorporeal lung assist
PEEPpositive end-expiratory pressure
VV-ECCO2Rveno-venous extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal


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Written By

Luis Morales-Quinteros and Antonio Artigas

Submitted: 11 November 2018 Reviewed: 04 February 2019 Published: 04 May 2019