Complement-induced granulocyte aggregation is suspected as a cause of the adult respiratory distress syndrome. Quantifying the lung damage in these patients is difficult, and complement levels combined with clinical parameters of oxygenation might help define the severity of pulmonary deterioration. Forty-five high-risk patients, selected by arterial blood gas criteria, had their pulmonary insult related to C3a and C5a levels.
Patients were stratified by pulmonary shunt, alveolar-arterial oxygen gradient, and radiographic findings into two categories of severity: pulmonary dysfunction, a milder insult, and ARDS, a major aberration in pulmonary function. The clinical assignment of a diagnostic category required at least 96 hours of monitoring. During this 96-hour period, multiple complement levels were obtained. These complement levels were then compared in pulmonary dysfunction and ARDS patients.
ARDS patients had significantly higher C3a and C5a values after the patients were selected as high risk. These results suggest that the amount of complement activated in patients with incipient respiratory failure correlates with the severity of eventual pulmonary insult. The use of arterial blood gases and C3a and C5a levels should allow better and earlier definition of patients at risk for ARDS.