Acute lung injury (ALI) affects an estimated 190,000 persons per year in U.S. intensive care units (ICUs), but little is known about its prevalence in the emergency department (ED). The objective was to describe the prevalence of ALI among mechanically ventilated adult nontrauma patients in the ED. The hypothesis was that the prevalence of ALI in adult ED patients would be low. This was a retrospective cohort study of admitted nontrauma patients presenting to an academic ED. Two trained investigators abstracted data from patient records using a standardized form. The use of mechanical ventilation in the ED was identified in two phases. First, all ED patients were screened for the current procedural terminology (CPT) code for endotracheal intubation (CPT 31500) from January 1, 2003, to December 31, 2006. Second, each patient record was reviewed to verify the use of mechanical ventilation. ALI was defined in accordance with a modified version of the American-European Consensus Conference criteria as: 1) hypoxemia defined as PaO(2) /FiO(2) ratio ≤300 mm Hg on all arterial blood gases (ABGs) in the ED and the first 24 hours of admission, 2) the presence of bilateral infiltrates on chest radiograph, and 3) the absence of left atrial hypertension. Data are presented in absolute numbers and percentages. Interobserver agreement was evaluated using the kappa statistic. Of the 552 patients who received mechanical ventilation in the ED and were subsequently admitted, a total of 134 (24.3%, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 20.8% to 28.0%) met hypoxemia criteria. Of these, 34 had evidence of left atrial hypertension, 52 did not have chest radiograph findings consistent with ALI, and two did not have a chest radiograph performed; the remaining 46 met ALI criteria. An additional two patients who died in the ED had clinical evidence of ALI. Thus, 48 of 552, or 8.7% (95% CI = 6.6% to 11.3%), met criteria for ALI. The kappa value for determination of ALI was 0.84 (95% CI = 0.54 to 1.0). The prevalence of ALI was nearly 9% in adult nontrauma patients receiving mechanical ventilation in the ED. Further study is required to determine which types of patients present to the ED with ALI, the extent to which lung protective ventilation is used, and the need for ED ventilator management algorithms.

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