Can ‘Blood Oxygen’ Help Patients With COVID-19?

Blood oxygenation treatment helps patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 recover, and without lingering side effects or complications, a study presented Friday during the American Association for Thoracic Surgery annual meeting found.

Nearly 70% of patients treated with the approach, called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, were discharged from the hospital, and more than 90% were recovering at home three months later, the data showed.

In addition, just over 16% had returned to work and other daily activities three months after discharge.

These percentages were similar to those found with mechanical ventilation, which uses an oxygen machine to maintain breathing in patients with lung-related illnesses, including COVID-19, they said.

This suggests that blood oxygenation may be useful in treating patients with severe illness from the virus in the hospital intensive care unit, or ICU, with no additional risk for long-term health complications compared with standard ventilation, according to the researchers.

“ECMO support in patients with COVID-19 … was not associated with worse survival or long-term outcomes compared to other ICU survivors,” study co-author Dr. Jessica Y. Rove told UPI in an email.

This was true despite the fact that these patients had “a more complex critical illness course, longer average duration of mechanical ventilation and longer average length of stay,” said Rove, an assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver.

Survivors of critical illness, including those with COVID-19, are at high risk for long-term physical, psychological and cognitive complications, some of which are brought on by the invasive measures used to treat them, Rove and her colleagues said.

In ECMO, a machine pumps the patient’s blood out of the body, infuses it with oxygen and then pumps it back into the body, according to the American Association for Thoracic Surgery.

The process allows the blood to maintain a healthy level of oxygen while allowing the heart and lungs to rest.

It may be an alternative for patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 who do not respond well to conventional mechanical ventilation or when ventilators are unavailable, researchers said.

For this study, Rove and her colleagues compared health outcomes in 46 patients treated with ECMO to those of 262 mechanically ventilated patients who did not undergo the procedure.

Nearly 70% of patients in both groups were discharged from the hospital, the data showed.

Of the 215 survivors across both groups, 94% were residing at home three months later, while 16% had returned to work or usual daily activities.

However, just over one in four of them were still using supplemental oxygen three months after discharge, according to the researchers.

These rates did not differ significantly between the two groups, and rates of physical, psychological and cognitive complications were about the same as well, they said.

“The cognitive, emotional and physical deficits seen in survivors of critical illness from COVID-19 can only be treated if diagnosed,” Rove said.

“Detrimental effects can potentially be ameliorated with use of best practices in the ICU,” she said.

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