Inhaled nitric oxide for severe acute respiratory distress syndrome: A blessing or a curse?

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The effects of inhaled nitric oxide (NO) in two young adults who developed severe acute respiratory distress syndrome are presented. Modest improvements in gas exchange and reductions in pulmonary artery pressures occurred after the initiation of treatment with inhaled NO. However, both patients became 'dependent' on the inhaled NO for stabilization of their cardiopulmonary function. Repeated attempts to discontinue the inhaled NO resulted in life-threatening deterioration in gas exchange and hemodynamic instability. Prolonged family discussions were held regarding the withdrawal of inhaled NO and other life-sustaining therapies, when the irreversible nature of the patients' lung disease became apparent. However, both families were strong in their desire to continue all therapies-due in large part to the single organ nature of the disease process. Both patients died while receiving inhaled NO and escalating doses of sedatives and analgesics. Based on this experience, it is recommend that dearly defined goals or endpoints for the discontinuation of inhaled NO should be established before its initial administration. If these goals are not achieved, then the therapy should be considered a failure and withdrawn. A similar strategy should be applied to all life-sustaining therapies in the intensive care unit setting (e.g., mechanical ventilation, vasopressors, dialysis). This requires that critical care clinicians effectively communicate the difference between aggressive supportive care and definitive treatment of the underlying disease process to patients or their families, or both. Furthermore, until the results of ongoing clinical trials of inhaled NO become available, it is recommended that its administration be restricted to medical centers examining its use in clinical trials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358-362
Number of pages5
JournalHeart and Lung: Journal of Acute and Critical Care
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1997


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