• Shruti GOCHHWAL

Heart Lung Machine – The Medical Equipment That Replaces Your Heart

Heart-lung machine temporarily takes over the function of the heart and lungs during an open heart or coronary artery bypass surgery. Let’s learn more about this medical equipment.

What is “Heart-Lung Machine?”

A cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) machine is called a heart-lung bypass machine. During a surgical procedure, when the heart is temporarily stopped, this device aids in providing blood and oxygen to the body.

In serious procedures like coronary artery bypass surgeries, where the arterial blocks need to be removed and grafted, this heart-lung machine performs the function of the heart temporarily.

Are CPB Pumps Mandatory?

CPB pumps

Medical equipment, Credits: pexels


The choice of using a “on-pump” or “off-pump” surgery will be based on a patient’s health history and the decision will be made by the surgeon.

If a person carries a higher risk of complications when a pump is used, the surgery may be performed through “off-pump” modes.

The surgeon decides which tools will suit the patients.

What are the Uses of this Machine?

CPB pumps-Uses

CPB pumps are crucial in heart surgeries, Credits: pixabay


Some heart surgeries cannot be performed while the heart is beating. In surgeries like heart transplantation, the role of the cardiopulmonary bypass machine is crucial.

Also if a person is experiencing heart failure, the patient may be placed on a pump until further procedures are carried out.

This cardiopulmonary bypass pump helps in pumping the blood throughout the body so that tissues can get the oxygenated blood. The machine also adds oxygen to the blood, thereby helping to replace the function of the lungs.

How This Machine was Discovered?

In the early days, surgeons faced lots of difficulties performing heart surgery. They could not do a procedure on a heart that was beating.

In 1931, a young female patient died due to blocked lung circulation and an American surgeon John H. Gibbon started devising a pump that helps to perform the surgery better. Through his strenuous efforts, in the year 1953, he discovered a heart-lung machine. This machine created a new era in cardiac surgery.

Who Runs the Cardiopulmonary Bypass Machine?

The machine contains a pump that functions as a heart and an oxygenator that replaces the functions of the lungs. A specialized technician called a perfusion technologist runs a cardiopulmonary bypass machine during a crucial surgery.

Apart from a CPB machine, cooling techniques are also employed during a cardiac surgery that helps surgeons perform the surgery without damaging the heart tissues. Cool temperatures avoid damage to the heart tissue by reducing the heart’s need for oxygen. The heart is cooled by pouring cold saltwater over the heart.

How does the “Heart-Lung machine” Work?

CPB pumps-Operation

A surgery, Credits: pixabay


The CPB machine is operated in the following way during cardiac surgery.

  1. Drugs are administered to keep your blood from clotting.

  2. Then the heart-lung bypass machine is connected to your heart.

  3. The machine temporarily takes over the pumping action of the heart, and a perfusion technologist monitors the machine throughout the procedure.

  4. The pump helps the surgeon to operate the heart that is not beating and that does not have blood flowing through it.

  5. During this procedure, a tube is used in the heart to drain blood to the machine.

  6. The CPB machine removes carbon dioxide from the blood, adds oxygen, and then pumps the blood back into the body.

  7. Once the surgery is over, the surgeon restores the function of the heart. Usually, the heart will start beating on its own, in some cases; a mild electric shock may be required to restart the function of the heart.

The Risks of Cardiopulmonary Bypass

CPB-Risks

Bleeding after surgeries, Credits: pixabay


Though there are risks associated when placing the patients on the CPB machine, the surgeries that are done are extremely lifesaving ones to the patients.

 Some of the risks associated with being on this machine include

  1. Blood clots

  2. Bleeding after surgery

  3. Surgical injury to the phrenic nerve

  4. Acute kidney injury

  5. Decreased lung or heart function

The medical professionals aim to reduce the above risks by placing the patients on the pump for the shortest possible time.

Take-Home Message:

The heart-lung machine mimics the work of the heart and lungs during a crucial surgery.

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