Comparison of the Berlin Definition for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome with Autopsy

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A revised definition of clinical criteria for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), the Berlin definition, was recently established to classify patients according to their severity.


To evaluate the accuracy of these clinical criteria using diffuse alveolar damage (DAD) at autopsy as the reference standard.


All patients who died and had a clinical autopsy in our intensive care unit over a 20-year period (1991-2010) were included. Patients with clinical criteria for ARDS were identified from the medical charts and were classified as mild, moderate, or severe according to the Berlin definition using PaO2/FiO2 oxygenation criteria. Microscopic analysis from each pulmonary lobe was performed by two pathologists.

Measurements and Main Results:

Among 712 autopsies analyzed, 356 patients had clinical criteria for ARDS at time of death, classified as mild (n= 49, 14%), moderate (n= 141, 40%), and severe (n= 166, 46%). Sensitivity was 89% and specificity 63% to identify ARDS using the Berlin definition. DAD was found in 159 of 356 (45%) patients with clinical criteria for ARDS (in 12, 40, and 58% of patients with mild, moderate, and severe ARDS, respectively). DAD was more frequent in patients who met clinical criteria for ARDS during more than 72 hours and was found in 69% of those with severe ARDS for 72 hours or longer.


Histopathological findings were correlated to severity and duration of ARDS. Using clinical criteria the revised Berlin definition for ARDS allowed the identification of severe ARDS of more than 72 hours as a homogeneous group of patients characterized by a high proportion of DAD.

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