Selective pulmonary vasodilation in acute respiratory distress syndrome

Crit Care Med. 2003 Apr;31(4 Suppl):S337-42. doi: 10.1097/01.CCM.0000057913.45273.1A.


Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is characterized by a marked maldistribution of pulmonary perfusion in favor of nonventilated, atelectatic areas of the lungs, and it is the main cause of pulmonary right-to-left shunting and hypoxemia. Therapeutic interventions to selectively influence pulmonary perfusion in ARDS became feasible with the introduction of inhaled nitric oxide, which provided a means not only to reduce pulmonary hypertension, but also to improve matching of ventilation to perfusion and, thus, hypoxemia. Clinical studies in ARDS subsequently demonstrated that the combination of inhaled nitric oxide with other interventions, such as positive end-expiratory pressure and prone positioning, yielded beneficial and additive effects on arterial oxygenation. Although the available randomized, controlled trials of this novel concept have so far failed to show an improved outcome in ARDS, inhaled nitric oxide is a clinically valuable option for the treatment of severe refractory hypoxemia in ARDS, and largely promoted the concept of selective pulmonary vasodilation in intensive care practice. Currently, aerosolization of various vasodilators, in particular prostaglandins, is under evaluation in models of acute lung injury and human ARDS. Ongoing research aims to augment the effectiveness of vasodilators with specific inhibitors of phosphodiesterases or by combination with intravenous vasoconstrictors. Consequently, several alternative ways to selectively modulate pulmonary vascular tone in patients with ARDS may be available in the near future. Cost-benefit analysis of these therapeutic options will largely determine their future perspective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adult
  • Almitrine / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Nitric Oxide / administration & dosage
  • Nitric Oxide / therapeutic use*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Vasodilator Agents / administration & dosage
  • Vasodilator Agents / therapeutic use*


  • Vasodilator Agents
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Almitrine