Epidemiology and outcome of acute respiratory failure in intensive care unit patients

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To summarize the prevalence of various forms of acute respiratory failure in acutely ill patients and review the major factors involved in the outcome of these patients.

Data Sources and Selection

MEDLINE search for published studies reporting the prevalence or outcome for patients with acute respiratory failure and cited reference studies and abstracts from a recent international meeting in the intensive care medicine field.

Data Synthesis and Extraction

From the selected articles, information was obtained regarding the prevalence of acute respiratory failure, including acute respiratory distress syndrome and acute lung injury as defined by the North American-European Consensus Conference, the outcome, and the factors influencing mortality rates in this population of patients.


The prevalence of acute respiratory failure varies according to the definition used and the population studied. Nonsurvivors of acute respiratory distress syndrome die predominantly of respiratory failure in <20% of cases. The relatively high mortality rates of acute lung injury/acute respiratory distress syndrome are primarily related to the underlying disease, the severity of the acute illness, and the degree of organ dysfunction.

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