Adult respiratory distress syndrome: do selective anticoagulants help?

Am J Respir Med. 2002;1(6):383-91. doi: 10.1007/BF03257165.


The adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a form of acute lung injury that is characterized by florid extravascular fibrin deposition. Thrombosis in the pulmonary vasculature and disseminated intravascular coagulation have also been observed in association with ARDS. Fibrin deposition does not occur in the normal lung but is virtually universal in acute lung injury induced by disparate insults. A large body of basic and preclinical evidence further implicates abnormalities of pathways of fibrin turnover in the pathogenesis of acute inflammation and fibrotic repair. Coagulation is locally upregulated in the injured lung, while fibrinolytic activity is depressed. These abnormalities occur concurrently and favor alveolar fibrin deposition. The systemic derangements of fibrin turnover in sepsis are similar to those that occur in the injured lung. Recent clinical trials demonstrate that interventions using selective anticoagulation can provide a mortality advantage and that selective anticoagulants differ in their ability to provide clinical benefit. Preclinical trials in primates with sepsis-induced ARDS now indicate that anticoagulant interventions that block the extrinsic coagulation pathway can protect against the development of pulmonary fibrin deposition as well as lung dysfunction and acute inflammation. These observations provide proof of principle that key steps in the coagulation cascade are appropriate therapeutic targets to prevent the development of acute lung injury in ARDS. Ongoing studies and prior publications also support the hypothesis that reversal of the fibrinolytic defect in ARDS could protect against the development of acute lung injury. In all, these studies suggest that fibrin deposition in the injured lung as well as abnormalities of coagulation and fibrinolysis are integral to the pathogenesis of ARDS. The ability of selective anticoagulants to effectively and safely alter clinical outcome in ARDS remains to be determined.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use*
  • Blood Coagulation
  • Fibrin / metabolism*
  • Fibrinolysis
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / blood
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Respiratory Mucosa / drug effects*


  • Anticoagulants
  • Fibrin