The use of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), and ventricular assist devices (VADs) for both short-term and long-term management of advanced cardiac (and respiratory) failure is increasing. Both thrombotic and haemorrhagic complications are common in patients receiving mechanical support, and such complications are associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Risks of bleeding and of thrombosis vary over time, and according to technical and patient factors. Careful assessment of the risks and benefits of anticoagulation for each patient is therefore a critical component of successful mechanical support.
The approach to anticoagulation for patients receiving VADs varies according to stage of recovery and device. In the immediate post-operative period, bleeding is usually a greater risk than thrombosis and a period free from anticoagulation is usually used. Subsequent initiation of anticoagulation is usually with heparin, with the introduction of warfarin and aspirin over a period of days. Current recommendations include warfarin for all continuous flow devices, usually with the addition of aspirin, and in some cases an additional antiplatelet agent. Target INR and platelet inhibition varies with device, and institution. Testing varies according to device also. Potential pitfalls and problems exist, and these will be highlighted in this session, using a case-based approach.
The management of anticoagulation for patients receiving ECMO varies worldwide, and there are currently limited guidelines. Important factors in decision-making in regards to anticoagulation for ECMO include mode of ECMO, ECMO configuration, ECMO flows, and underlying patient pathology. Strategies for anticoagulation should take each of these factors into consideration. It is also important to recognise that other management techniques to avoid thrombosis are important, such as adequate intracardiac decompression, and promoting cardiac ejection to avoid stasis. Cases will be used to demonstrate important issues and practical management strategies.