Oxygen-derived free radicals play an important role in the development of disease in critically ill patients. Normally, oxygen free radicals are neutralized by antioxidants such as vitamin E or enzymes such as superoxide dismutase. However, in patients who require intensive care, oxygen free radicals become a problem when either a decrease in the removal or an overproduction of the radicals occurs. This oxidative stress and the damage due to it have been implicated in many diseases in critically ill patients. Many drugs and treatments now being investigated are directed toward preventing the damage from oxidative stress. The formation of reactive oxygen species, the damage caused by them, and the body’s defense system against them are reviewed. New interventions are described that may be used in critically ill patients to prevent or treat oxidative damage.

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