Changes in the alveolar hemostatic balance in severe pneumonia were compared with those in the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Analysis was performed in bronchoalveolar lavage fluids (BALF) of patients with ARDS triggered by nonpulmonary underlying events in the absence of lung infection (ARDS; n = 25), pneumonia demanding mechanical ventilation (PNEU-vent; n = 114), spontaneously breathing patients with pneumonia (PNEU-spon; n = 40), and ARDS in combination with lung infection (ARDS+PNEU; n = 43); comparison with healthy control subjects (n = 35) was performed. In all groups of patients, BALF total procoagulant activity was increased by nearly two orders of magnitude, being largely attributable to the tissue factor pathway of coagulation. Concomitantly, markedly reduced overall fibrinolytic capacity (fibrin plate assay) was noted in the lavage fluids of all patients. BALF levels of urokinase-type plasminogen activator were significantly reduced throughout, whereas the lavage concentrations of tissue-type plasminogen activator did not differ from those in control subjects. In addition, markedly enhanced levels of plasminogen activator- inhibitor I and alpha(2)-antiplasmin were noted in ARDS, ARDS+PNEU, and PNEU-vent, but not in PNEU-spon. In all groups of patients, the changes in the lavage enzymatic activities were paralleled by manifold increased BALF concentrations of fibrinopeptide A and D-dimer, reflecting in vivo coagulation processes. Within the overall number of patients with pneumonia, changes in the alveolar hemostatic balance were more prominent in alveolar and interstitial pneumonia than in bronchopneumonia. Acute inflammatory lung injury, whether triggered by nonpulmonary systemic events or primary lung infection, is thus consistently characterized by both enhanced procoagulant and depressed fibrinolytic activities in the alveolar lining layer, with the appearance of fibrin formation in this compartment. Profile and extent of changes in severe pneumonia demanding respirator therapy are virtually identical to those in ARDS, whereas somewhat less prominent alterations of the alveolar hemostatic balance are noted in spontaneously breathing patients with pneumonia.