The acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a serious and complex clinical problem that often threatens the lives of patients. Emerging clinical data suggest that the survival of patients with this disorder may have improved during the last two decades, presumably because of advances in supportive medical care. Among the supportive therapies used to treat patients with ARDS, none is more complex than mechanical ventilation. New strategies for administering mechanical ventilation to patients with ARDS may reduce the occurrence of iatrogenic volotrauma and oxygen toxicity, accounting in part for the recently observed improvements in patient survival. Prevention and cure of ARDS have remained elusive goals because of the lack of specific therapies directed against the known pathogenic factors. Ongoing investigations are aimed at identifying specific therapies to interrupt the mechanisms of inflammation and lung injury responsible for this syndrome. Until such therapies become available, clinicians caring for patients with ARDS should attempt to minimize additional morbidity and mortality resulting from nosocomial infections and iatrogenic injuries.