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To describe the current practice of physicians, to report complications associated with endotracheal intubation (ETI) performed in THE intensive care unit (ICU), and to isolate predictive factors of immediate life-threatening complications.Multiple-center observational study.Seven intensive care units of two university hospitals.We evaluated 253 occurrences of ETI in 220 patients.From January 1 to June 30, 2003, data related to all ETI performed in ICU were collected. Information regarding patient descriptors, procedures, and immediate complications were analyzed.The main indications to intubate the trachea were acute respiratory failure, shock, and coma. Some 148 ETIs (59%) were performed by residents. At least one severe complication occurred in 71 ETIs (28%): severe hypoxemia (26%), hemodynamic collapse (25%), and cardiac arrest (2%). The other complications were difficult intubation (12%), cardiac arrhythmia (10%), esophageal intubation (5%), and aspiration (2%). Presence of acute respiratory failure and the presence of shock as an indication for ETI were identified as independent risk factors for occurrence of complications, and ETI performed by a junior physician supervised by a senior (i.e., two operators) was identified as a protective factor for the occurrence of complications.ETI in ICU patients is associated with a high rate of immediate and severe life-threatening complications. Independent risk factors of complication occurrence were presence of acute respiratory failure and presence of shock as an indication for ETI. Further studies should aim to better define protocols for intubation in critically ill patients to make this procedure safer.