Acute respiratory failure in COVID-19: is it "typical" ARDS?

Crit Care. 2020 May 6;24(1):198. doi: 10.1186/s13054-020-02911-9.


In December 2019, an outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was identified in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared this outbreak a significant threat to international health. COVID-19 is highly infectious and can lead to fatal comorbidities especially acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Thus, fully understanding the characteristics of COVID-19-related ARDS is conducive to early identification and precise treatment. We aimed to describe the characteristics of COVID-19-related ARDS and to elucidate the differences from ARDS caused by other factors. COVID-19 mainly affected the respiratory system with minor damage to other organs. Injury to the alveolar epithelial cells was the main cause of COVID-19-related ARDS, and endothelial cells were less damaged with therefore less exudation. The clinical manifestations were relatively mild in some COVID-19 patients, which was inconsistent with the severity of laboratory and imaging findings. The onset time of COVID-19-related ARDS was 8-12 days, which was inconsistent with ARDS Berlin criteria, which defined a 1-week onset limit. Some of these patients might have a relatively normal lung compliance. The severity was redefined into three stages according to its specificity: mild, mild-moderate, and moderate-severe. HFNO can be safe in COVID-19-related ARDS patients, even in some moderate-severe patients. The more likely cause of death is severe respiratory failure. Thus, the timing of invasive mechanical ventilation is very important. The effects of corticosteroids in COVID-19-related ARDS patients were uncertain. We hope to help improve the prognosis of severe cases and reduce the mortality.

Keywords: Acute respiratory distress syndrome; Berlin criteria; COVID-19; Coronavirus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acute Lung Injury / diagnostic imaging*
  • Acute Lung Injury / epidemiology
  • Acute Lung Injury / therapy
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / therapy*
  • Creatine Kinase / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase / blood
  • Male
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnosis
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / therapy*
  • Radiography
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / classification
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / diagnostic imaging*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / therapy*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Time Factors


  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase
  • Creatine Kinase