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Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is characterized by severe impairment of gas exchange. Hypoxemia is mainly due to intrapulmonary shunt, whereas increased alveolar dead space explains the alteration of CO2 clearance. Assessment of the severity of gas exchange impairment is a requisite for the characterization of the syndrome and the evaluation of its severity. Confounding factors linked to hemodynamic status can greatly influence the relationship between the severity of lung injury and the degree of hypoxemia and/or the effects of ventilator settings on gas exchange. Apart from situations of rescue treatment, targeting optimal gas exchange in ARDS has become less of a priority compared with prevention of injury. A complex question for clinicians is to understand when improvement in oxygenation and alveolar ventilation is related to a lower degree or risk of injury for the lungs. In this regard, a full understanding of gas exchange mechanism in ARDS is imperative for individualized symptomatic support of patients with ARDS.