Does Surviving an ECMO Stay Put Patients at Greater Risk for Mental Health Problems?
By Elaine Chen, MD
Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Section of Palliative Medicine, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago
SYNOPSIS: Survivors of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) demonstrated a modest increase in risk of new mental health diagnoses after discharge vs. ICU survivors who do not undergo ECMO.
SOURCE: Fernando SM, Scott M, Talarico R, et al. Association of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation with new mental health diagnoses in adult survivors of critical illness. JAMA 2022;328:1827-1836.
Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) provides temporary cardiac and respiratory system support when conventional treatment has failed. Today, clinicians use ECMO more often, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. ECMO improves short-term (and likely long-term) mortality in selected populations. Long-term morbidities, especially mental health outcomes, are not well understood. There is a growing body of literature about prolonged morbidities in survivors of critical illness. Fernando et al used population-based data to compare ECMO and non-ECMO ICU survivorship regarding long-term mental health morbidity.
The authors performed a population-level cohort study using health administrative databases from Ontario, Canada. The single-payer healthcare system allows for provincewide collection of accurate administrative data. All consecutive adult patients admitted in a 10-year period (April 2010 through March 2020) who received ECMO and survived to hospital discharge were included. They were matched with ICU survivors who did not receive ECMO. Patients admitted for deliberate self-harm were excluded.
The primary outcome was the incidence of any new mental health diagnosis from the time of discharge to the time of study completion, death, or emigration from Ontario. Secondary outcomes included substance misuse, death by suicide, and hospital visit for deliberate self-harm. Statistical analyses were described in detail, including overlap weighting, proportionality assumption, and regression models with preplanned sensitivity analyses. Overlap weighting assigns less weight to participants with outlier propensity scores and more weight to those with propensity scores close to 0.5 rather than excluding outlier participants.
A total of 1,054 adult patients received ECMO during the study period, with 642 ECMO survivors included in the analysis and 3,830 non-ECMO ICU survivors matched for comparison. The median duration of follow-up was 730 days (interquartile range [IQR], 289 days to 1,437 days) for ECMO survivors and 1,390 days (IQR, 572 days to 2,408 days) for non-ECMO survivors; the authors did not include the reason for discontinuation of follow-up. Baseline characteristics, including age, sex, number of comorbidities, and pre-existing psychiatric history, were well matched. Notably, only 39.5% of the original control group underwent invasive mechanical ventilation vs. 97.7% of the ECMO group, highlighting the importance of overlap weighting.
New mental health conditions were diagnosed in 236 ECMO survivors and 1,565 non-ECMO survivors, with an incidence rate of 22.1 per 100 person-years (95% CI, 19.5-25.1) in the ECMO cohort and 14.5 per 100 person-years (95% CI, 13.8-15.2) in the non-ECMO cohort, for an absolute rate difference of 7.6 per 100 person-years (95% CI, 4.7-10.5) and a hazard ratio (HR) of 1.24 (95% CI, 1.01-1.52) after propensity score matching. ECMO survivorship was not associated with more substance misuse (HR, 0.86; 95% CI, 0.48-1.63) or deliberate self-harm (HR, 0.68; 95% CI, 0.21-2.23). Two prognostic factors, specifically a pre-existing mental health diagnosis (HR, 2.39; 95% CI, 1.78-3.20) and logging an outpatient psychiatry visit within one year before admission (HR, 1.82; 95% CI, 1.25-2.65), were significantly associated with new mental health diagnoses. Statistical significance in cumulative function curves after overlap weighting was maintained for the primary composite outcome, any mental health disorder or substance use, and other mental health or social problems, with no differences in mood or anxiety disorders, any substance use, schizophrenia or psychotic disorder, or deliberate self-harm.
The authors concluded receiving ECMO is significantly associated with a modestly higher risk of new mental health or social problem diagnoses after discharge compared with a general ICU hospitalization without ECMO. This study confirms new mental health conditions are common among ECMO survivors, most commonly depression, anxiety, and traumatic disorders.
Prior to overlap weighting, ECMO survivors had a significantly higher incidence of invasive mechanical ventilation use (97.7% vs. 39.5%) and longer duration of hospitalization (median 41 days vs. 6 days; mean 55.5 days vs. 15.3 days) compared to the general ICU survivor, and a much lower incidence of discharge independently to home (29.9% vs. 63%). The much shorter duration of follow-up (730 days vs. 1,390 days) may reflect the increased prevalence of ECMO later in the study period or shorter long-term survival rates in the ECMO cohort. The prevalence of a new mental health diagnosis was higher in the non-ECMO group (40.9% vs. 36.8%), which does not account for duration of follow-up.
The authors noted limitations attributed to the observational nature of the study, residual or unmeasured confounding despite statistical adjustment and sensitivity analyses, and the geographic limitation, which may not be applicable to ECMO cohorts elsewhere in the world where social structures may differ substantially from those in Canada. Regardless, mental health morbidity is an important and common sequela of critical illness. It is notable in this small but growing population of ECMO survivors. This calls for ongoing research into mental health outcomes in survivors of ECMO and general critical illness, as well as targeted clinical efforts to improve mental health awareness and access for this complex population.
Survivors of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) demonstrated a modest increase in risk of new mental health diagnoses after discharge vs. ICU survivors who do not undergo ECMO.
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