Acute respiratory failure is caused by many factors and remains one of the most common reasons for admission to the intensive care unit (ICU). In all cases of acute respiratory failure, there is a shortage of surfactant at the alveolar level. This deficit of surfactant leads to an increase in alveolar surface tension that increases the retraction forces of the lung, leading to end-expiratory alveolar collapse, finally resulting in respiratory dysfunction, which includes hypoxemia, low lung compliance, increase of intrapulmonary shunts, low functional residual capacity, atelectasis, and pulmonary edema. The goal of the treatment and prevention of acute respiratory failure is therefore based on the following three main items: re-opening the collapsed alveolar units; preserving the active surfactant component in the remaining functional alveolar units, and preventing end-expiratory collapse. The following strategies can be used to prevent and/or treat acute respiratory failure: counterbalancing the retraction forces of the lung by applying sufficiently high external pressures; and/or decreasing the surface tension at the air-liquid interface by means of exogenous surfactant, and/or eliminating the air-liquid interface by filling the lung with perfluorocarbons. By applying these therapeutic strategies in routine clinical practice, we should achieve a reduction in the mortality rate of patients suffering from acute respiratory failure. Copyright

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Archives of Medical Research
Department of Anesthesiology

de Anda, G. F. V., & Lachmann, B. (2001). Treatment and prevention of acute respiratory failure: Physiological basis. Archives of Medical Research (Vol. 32, pp. 91–101). doi:10.1016/S0188-4409(01)00269-7