We performed a prospective cohort analysis to determine the rate and extent of improvement in pulmonary function abnormalities and self-perceived health for 1 yr after surviving an episode of the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). We also examined the effect of ARDS severity and etiology, age, and sex on functional recovery. Patients were recruited from the intensive care units of one hospital and followed at regular time intervals from extubation to 1 yr. Fifty-two of 82 eligible adult survivors (63%) consented to participate; 37 of 82 (45%) had at least two examinations, and 20 (24%) had complete follow-up. Risk factors for ARDS included sepsis (n = 12), trauma (n = 15), and other (n = 10). Pulmonary function and self-perceived health scores improved considerably in the first 3 mo after extubation, with only slight additional improvement at 6 mo. No further changes were evident at 1 yr. Patients with more severe ARDS had significantly lower pulmonary function tests than did other survivors throughout follow-up. These observations should be useful for clinical follow-up of ARDS survivors and provide specific information concerning the expected rate of functional recovery in these patients.