The epidemiology of acute respiratory failure in critically ill patients(*)

Chest. 2002 May;121(5):1602-9. doi: 10.1378/chest.121.5.1602.


Study objectives: To describe the risk factors for the development of and mortality resulting from acute respiratory failure (ARF) in a large patient population.

Design: A substudy of a prospective, multicenter, observational cohort study, which was designed to validate the sequential organ failure assessment score.

Setting: Forty ICUs in 16 countries.

Patients: All critically ill patients who were admitted to one of the participating ICUs during a 1-month period were observed until the end of their hospital course.

Measurements and results: Of the 1,449 patients who were enrolled into the study, 458 (32%) were admitted to an ICU with ARF, as defined by a PaO(2)/fraction of inspired oxygen ratio of < 200 mm Hg and the need for respiratory support. Patients who presented with ARF were older than the other patients (63 vs 57 years, respectively; p < 0.001) and more commonly had an infection (47% vs 20%, respectively; p < 0.001). The length of ICU stay was longer (6 vs 4 days, respectively; p < 0.001) and the ICU mortality rate was more than double (34% vs 16%, respectively; p < 0.001) in ARF patients compared to non-ARF patients. Of the 991 patients who were admitted to an ICU without ARF, 352 (35%) developed ARF later during the ICU stay. The independent risk factors for the development of ARF were infection developing in the ICU (odds ratio [OR], 7.59; 95% confidence interval [CI], 5.08 to 11.33) or present on ICU admission (OR, 2.3; 95% CI, 1.68 to 3.16), the presence of neurologic failure on ICU admission (OR, 2.73; 95% CI, 1.90 to 3.91), and older age (OR, 1.70; 95% CI, 1.30 to 2.22). Of all 810 patients with ARF, 253 (31%) died. The independent risk factors for death were multiple organ failure following ICU admission, history of hematologic malignancy, chronic renal failure or liver cirrhosis, the presence of circulatory shock on ICU admission, the presence of infection, and older age.

Conclusions: The present study stresses that ARF is common in the ICU (56% of all patients) and that a number of extrapulmonary factors are related to the risk of development of ARF and to mortality rate in these patients.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Critical Illness*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Organ Failure / epidemiology
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / etiology*
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / mortality
  • Risk Factors
  • Survival Rate