N-acetylcysteine enhances recovery from acute lung injury in man. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study

Chest. 1994 Jan;105(1):190-4. doi: 10.1378/chest.105.1.190.


Objective: To determine the effects of intravenous N-acetylcysteine (NAC) on the development of severe adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and mortality rate in patients with mild-to-moderate acute lung injury and to analyze the duration of ventilatory support and FIO2 required as well as the evolution of the lung injury score.

Setting: Three university hospital ICUs and one regional ICU in Switzerland.

Patients: Sixty-one adult patients presenting with mild-to-moderate acute lung injury and various predisposing factors for ARDS received either NAC, 40 mg/kg/d, or placebo intravenously for 3 days.

Measurements: Respiratory dysfunction was assessed daily according to the need for mechanical ventilation and FIO2, the evolution of the lung injury score, and the PaO2/FIO2 ratio. The cardiovascular state, liver function, and kidney function were also monitored. Data were collected at admission (day 0), during the first 3 days, and on the day of discharge from the ICU.

Results: The NAC and placebo groups (32 and 29 patients, respectively) were comparable at ICU admission for severity of illness assessed by the simplified acute physiology score (SAPS) (10.8 +/- 4.6 vs 10.9 +/- 4.8) and lung injury score (LIS) (1.39 +/- 0.95 vs 1.11 +/- 1.08) (mean +/- SD). Three patients in each group developed ARDS. The 1-month mortality rate was 22 percent for the NAC group and 35 percent for the placebo group (difference not statistically significant). At admission, 22 of 32 patients (69 percent) in the NAC group were mechanically ventilated compared with 22 of 29 (76 percent) in the placebo group. At the end of the treatment period (day 3), 5 of 29 (17 percent) in the NAC group and 12 of 25 (48 percent) in the placebo group were still receiving ventilatory support (p = 0.01), The FIO2 was 0.37 less than admission value (day 0) in the NAC group, and 0.20 less in the placebo group (p < 0.04); the oxygenation index (PaO2/FIO2) improved significantly (p < 0.05) from day 0 to day 3 only in the NAC-treated group. The LIS showed a significant regression (p = 0.003) in the NAC-treated group during the first 10 days of treatment: no change was observed in the placebo group. No adverse effects were observed during the treatment with NAC.

Conclusions: Intravenous NAC treatment during 72 h improved systemic oxygenation and reduced the need for ventilatory support in patients presenting with mild-to-moderate acute lung injury subsequent to a variety of underlying diseases. Development of ARDS and mortality were not reduced significantly by this therapy.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / therapeutic use*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / drug effects*
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Lung Injury*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy
  • Placebos
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / prevention & control*
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Survival Rate
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Placebos
  • Acetylcysteine