Jayalalithaa On ECMO For Heart And Lung Support: How It Works

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has been in hospital since September 22


  • ECMO device performs the function of patient's lungs
  • Device provides oxygen to the body when lungs, heart can't
  • Jayalalithaa, in hospital for 3 months, suffered cardiac arrest
Chennai: J Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, is on assisted breathing at Chennai's Apollo hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest on Sunday. Apollo says the 68-year-old politician, placed on the ECMO device for heart and lung support, is "very critical".

The ECMO or Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation device is a life support system that helps provide oxygen to the body when the patient's lungs or heart are unable to do so. Worldwide, it gives patients a 50-50 chance, says renowned cardiologist Naresh Trehan.

"ECMO is used in an acute condition, when there is a total shutdown of lung functions. It is used as a last resort to do what the body can't do. So if the patient has the underlying ability to recover, ECMO will give the patient a chance to pull through," Dr Trehan told NDTV.

ECMO stabilizes the patient's condition because it takes over the functions of the heart and lungs, he explained. The critical test is whether the body can function without the machine.

The device, used when the patient doesn't respond to any other treatment, works by draining blood from a vein and connecting it to an oxygenator machine. This allows the blood to bypass the heart and lungs.


A person can be on ECMO for several days or even weeks, say doctors.

On Saturday, a team of specialists had said that the Chief Minister was well enough to decide when to return home. The situation changed drastically last evening after she suffered a cardiac arrest.

Jayalalithaa's party, the AIADMK, has said for weeks that "Amma" - as she is known to millions of supporters - has been taking important decisions and meeting with people who are allowed to visit her.

A huge crowd of supporters has been outside the hospital since last evening. They are almost outnumbered by policemen, who are on alert across the state. Around 900 riot policemen are also on stand-by.