Although the exact incidence of ARDS is not known, it is frequency reported that there are 150,000 cases in the United States each year. Despite major advances in medical and respiratory intensive care, the mortality for patients with ARDS remains exceedingly high and has not changed appreciably from the 50% to 75% reported during the last 25 years.

Currently there is no widespread, acceptable, specific therapeutic approach or agent available for the prevention or treatment of ARDS. Clinical management remains entirely supportive in nature.

Although most practitioners agree that patients with severe ARDS require mechanical ventilation to maintain adequate gas exchange, controversies center on the amount of supplemental oxygen, level of positive end expiratory pressure (PEEP), and mode of ventilation needed to increase patient survival but reduce ventilator-associated complications.

This review provides supportive evidence for the use of high- level PEEP (more than 15 cm H2O) in the care of the surgical patient with severe ARDS.

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