COVID-19 versus Non-COVID-19 Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome: Comparison of Demographics, Physiologic Parameters, Inflammatory Biomarkers, and Clinical Outcomes

Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2021 Jul;18(7):1202-1210. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.202008-1026OC.


Rationale: There is an urgent need for improved understanding of the mechanisms and clinical characteristics of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19).Objectives: To compare key demographic and physiologic parameters, biomarkers, and clinical outcomes of COVID-19 ARDS and ARDS secondary to direct lung injury from other etiologies of pneumonia.Methods: We enrolled 27 patients with COVID-19 ARDS in a prospective, observational cohort study and compared them with a historical, pre-COVID-19 cohort of patients with viral ARDS (n = 14), bacterial ARDS (n = 21), and ARDS due to culture-negative pneumonia (n = 30). We recorded clinical demographics; measured respiratory mechanical parameters; collected serial peripheral blood specimens for measurement of plasma interleukin (IL)-6, IL-8, and IL-10; and followed patients prospectively for patient-centered outcomes. We conducted between-group comparisons with nonparametric tests and analyzed time-to-event outcomes with Kaplan-Meier and Cox proportional hazards models.Results: Patients with COVID-19 ARDS had higher body mass index and were more likely to be Black, or residents of skilled nursing facilities, compared with those with non-COVID-19 ARDS (P < 0.05). Patients with COVID-19 had lower delivered minute ventilation compared with bacterial and culture-negative ARDS (post hoc P < 0.01) but not compared with viral ARDS. We found no differences in static compliance, hypoxemic indices, or carbon dioxide clearance between groups. Patients with COVID-19 had lower IL-6 levels compared with bacterial and culture-negative ARDS at early time points after intubation but no differences in IL-6 levels compared with viral ARDS. Patients with COVID-19 had longer duration of mechanical ventilation but similar 60-day mortality in both unadjusted and adjusted analyses.Conclusions: COVID-19 ARDS bears several similarities to viral ARDS but demonstrates lower minute ventilation and lower systemic levels of IL-6 compared with bacterial and culture-negative ARDS. COVID-19 ARDS was associated with longer dependence on mechanical ventilation compared with non-COVID-19 ARDS. Such detectable differences of COVID-19 do not merit deviation from evidence-based management of ARDS but suggest priorities for clinical research to better characterize and treat this new clinical entity.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; acute respiratory distress syndrome; pneumonia.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • COVID-19*
  • Demography
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome* / epidemiology
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Biomarkers