Despite a great deal of information about the risk factors, prognostic variables, and hospital mortality in the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), very little is known about the long-term outcomes of patients with this syndrome. We conducted a prospective, matched, parallel cohort study with the goals of describing the survival of patients with ARDS after hospital discharge and comparing the long-term survival of patients with ARDS and that of a group of matched controls. The study involved 127 patients with ARDS associated with trauma or sepsis and 127 controls matched for risk factor (trauma or sepsis) and severity of illness who survived to hospital discharge. Time until death was used as the outcome measure. Survival was associated with age, risk factor for ARDS, and comorbidity. There was no difference in the long-term mortality rate for ARDS patients and that of matched controls (hazard ratio for ARDS: 1.00; 95% confidence interval: 0.47 to 2.09) after controlling for age, risk factor for ARDS, comorbidity, and severity of illness. We conclude that if sepsis or trauma patients survive to hospital discharge, ARDS does not increase their risk of subsequent death. Older patients, patients with sepsis, and patients with comorbidities, regardless of the presence of ARDS, have a higher risk of death after hospital discharge. For the purposes of clinical prognosis and cost-effectiveness analysis, the long-term survival of patients with ARDS can be modeled on the basis of age, underlying risk factor for ARDS, and comorbidity.