Respiratory physiology of COVID-19-induced respiratory failure compared to ARDS of other etiologies

Domenico Luca Grieco, Filippo Bongiovanni, Lu Chen, Luca S. Menga, Salvatore Lucio Cutuli, Gabriele Pintaudi, Simone Carelli, Teresa Michi, Flava Torrini, Gianmarco Lombardi, Gian Marco Anzellotti, Gennaro De Pascale, Andrea Urbani, Maria Grazia Bocci, Eloisa S. Tanzarella, Giuseppe Bello, Antonio M. Dell'anna, Salvatore M. Maggiore, Laurent Brochard, Massimo Antonelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Whether respiratory physiology of COVID-19-induced respiratory failure is different from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) of other etiologies is unclear. We conducted a single-center study to describe respiratory mechanics and response to positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) in COVID-19 ARDS and to compare COVID-19 patients to matched-control subjects with ARDS from other causes. Methods: Thirty consecutive COVID-19 patients admitted to an intensive care unit in Rome, Italy, and fulfilling moderate-to-severe ARDS criteria were enrolled within 24 h from endotracheal intubation. Gas exchange, respiratory mechanics, and ventilatory ratio were measured at PEEP of 15 and 5 cmH2O. A single-breath derecruitment maneuver was performed to assess recruitability. After 1:1 matching based on PaO2/FiO2, FiO2, PEEP, and tidal volume, COVID-19 patients were compared to subjects affected by ARDS of other etiologies who underwent the same procedures in a previous study. Results: Thirty COVID-19 patients were successfully matched with 30 ARDS from other etiologies. At low PEEP, median [25th-75th percentiles] PaO2/FiO2 in the two groups was 119 mmHg [101-142] and 116 mmHg [87-154]. Average compliance (41 ml/cmH2O [32-52] vs. 36 ml/cmH2O [27-42], p = 0.045) and ventilatory ratio (2.1 [1.7-2.3] vs. 1.6 [1.4-2.1], p = 0.032) were slightly higher in COVID-19 patients. Inter-individual variability (ratio of standard deviation to mean) of compliance was 36% in COVID-19 patients and 31% in other ARDS. In COVID-19 patients, PaO2/FiO2 was linearly correlated with respiratory system compliance (r = 0.52 p = 0.003). High PEEP improved PaO2/FiO2 in both cohorts, but more remarkably in COVID-19 patients (p = 0.005). Recruitability was not different between cohorts (p = 0.39) and was highly inter-individually variable (72% in COVID-19 patients and 64% in ARDS from other causes). In COVID-19 patients, recruitability was independent from oxygenation and respiratory mechanics changes due to PEEP. Conclusions: Early after establishment of mechanical ventilation, COVID-19 patients follow ARDS physiology, with compliance reduction related to the degree of hypoxemia, and inter-individually variable respiratory mechanics and recruitability. Physiological differences between ARDS from COVID-19 and other causes appear small.

Original languageEnglish
Article number529
JournalCritical Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 28 2020


  • Alveolar recruitment
  • ARDS
  • COVID-19
  • PEEP
  • Respiratory mechanics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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