Diagnosis of acute respiratory distress syndrome by exhaled breath analysis

Lieuwe D. J. Bos


The acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a complication of critical illness that is characterized by acute onset, protein rich, pulmonary edema. There is no treatment for ARDS, other than the reduction of additional ventilator induced lung injury. Prediction or earlier recognition of ARDS could result in preventive measurements and might decrease mortality and morbidity. Exhaled breath contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a collection of hundreds of small molecules linked to several physiological and pathophysiological processes. Analysis of exhaled breath through gas-chromatography and mass-spectrometry (GC-MS) has resulted in an accurate diagnosis of ARDS in several studies. Most identified markers are linked to lipid peroxidation. Octane is one of the few markers that was validated as a marker of ARDS and is pathophysiologically likely to be increased in ARDS. None of the currently studied breath analysis methods is directly applicable in clinical practice. Two steps have to be taken before any breath test can be allowed into the intensive care unit. External validation in a multi-center study is a prerequisite for any of the candidate breath markers and the breath test should outperform clinical prediction scores. Second, the technology for breath analysis should be adapted so that it is available at a decentralized lab inside the intensive care unit and can be operated by trained nurses, in order to reduce the analysis time. In conclusion, exhaled analysis might be used for the early diagnosis and prediction of ARDS in the near future but several obstacles have to be taken in the coming years. Most of the candidate markers can be linked to lipid peroxidation. Only octane has been validated in a temporal external validation cohort and is, at this moment, the top-ranking breath biomarker for ARDS.