Nitric Oxide

Reviewed and revised 12 September 2014


  • inhalational agent (inhaled nitric oxide, iNO)
  • an inorganic gas


  • diffuses to vascular smooth muscle layer from the alveoli
    -> stimulates gluanylate cyclase
    -> increase in cGMP –
    > activates a phosphorylation cascade
    -> smooth muscle relaxation
    -> vasodilation results
  • hence iNO is a potent, selective pulmonary vasodilator of those area of the lung being ventilated
    -> improves V/Q mismatch
    -> decreased pulmonary vascular resistance
    -> decreased pulmonary artery pressure


  • aluminium or stainless steel cylinders
  • 100 to 2000 ppm NO
  • typically 40L capacity


  • 5-80 ppm INH


  1. controversial role in ARDS (see evidence)
  2. pulmonary hypertension of the newborn
  3. pulmonary hypertension in adults
  4. right heart failure (e.g. post-cardiac surgery, post-VAD insertion, heart transplant)
  5. primary graft failure post-lung transplant


  • hypotension
  • platelet inhibition and prolonged bleeding time
  • rebound pulmonary hypertension and hypoxia on withdrawal
  • increased blood flow to left atrium may precipitate acute pulmonary oedema if LV dysfunction
  • renal failure
  • inhalation of toxic higher oxides of nitrogen by patient and staff (ie. nitrogen dioxide -> worsens ARDS, bronchiolitis and may cause pneumonitis)
  • mutagenicity


  • complicated circuitry may increase risk of disconnection
  • complex equipment
  • complex monitoring for NO and nitrogen dioxide concentrations
  • some patients appear to be non-responders
  • dose-dependent effects not well defined
  • minimal additional hemodynamic effects above 20 ppm iNO


  • Absorption – INH, highly lipid soluble and diffuses freely across cell membranes
  • Metabolism – rapidly converted to nitrates and nitrites in presence of O2, and readily reacts with oxidised Hb to form methaemoglobin
  • Elimination  t1/2 = 5sec


  • several studies suggest transient improve in oxygenation in ARDS with NO therapy
  • no study has found clinically meaningful benefits in mortality or duration of mechanical ventilation in ARDS patients
    • if multi-organ failure is the main cause of death in ARDS, then iNO to correct hypoxia is unlikely to improve mortality and may expose the patient to systemic side effects
  • In neonates, shown to increase oxygenation, decrease PHT and reduce the need to go onto ECMO

Adhikari NK et al, 2014

  • Systematic review of 9 trials, with overall ‘good methodological quality’, that met inclusion criteria
  • n = 1,142 patients, patient level data was used
  • No reduction in mortality in severe ARDS (PF ratio <100) or moderate-mild ARDS (PF ratio 100-300), no threshold of PF ratio at which NO showed benefit
  • further studies addressing the role of NO in ARDS not expected to be available in the foreseeable future


  • established use in neonates
  • use as a ceiling of care
  • to use as a bridge to another treatment (HFOV, VV ECMO, proning, prostacycline)
  • assess whether responder
  • wean slowly
  • monitor closely for complications (risk of bleeding, renal failure, methHb, nitrogen dioxide formation) -> if they develop cease

References and Links

Journal articles

  • Adhikari NK, Dellinger RP, Lundin S, Payen D, Vallet B, Gerlach H, Park KJ, Mehta S, Slutsky AS, Friedrich JO. Inhaled nitric oxide does not reduce mortality in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome regardless of severity: systematic review and meta-analysis. Crit Care Med. 2014 Feb;42(2):404-12. PMID: 24132038.
  • Creagh-Brown BC, Griffiths MJ, Evans TW. Bench-to-bedside review: Inhaled nitric oxide therapy in adults. Crit Care. 2009;13(3):221. doi: 10.1186/cc7734. PMC2717403.
  • De Cruz SJ, Kenyon NJ, Sandrock CE. Bench-to-bedside review: the role of nitric oxide in sepsis. Expert Rev Respir Med. 2009 Oct;3(5):511-21. PMID: 20477340.
  • Hollenberg SM, Cinel I. Bench-to-bedside review: nitric oxide in critical illness–update 2008. Crit Care. 2009;13(4):218. PMC2750127.
  • Ichinose F, Roberts JD Jr, Zapol WM. Inhaled nitric oxide: a selective pulmonary vasodilator: current uses and therapeutic potential. Circulation. 2004 Jun 29;109(25):3106-11.PMID: 15226227. [Free Full Text]
  • Pasero D, Martin EL, Davi A, Mascia L, Rinaldi M, Ranieri VM. The effects of inhaled nitric oxide after lung transplantation. Minerva Anestesiol. 2010 May;76(5):353-61. PMID: 20395898.
  • Weitzberg E, Hezel M, Lundberg JO. Nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway: implications for anesthesiology and intensive care. Anesthesiology. 2010 Dec;113(6):1460-75. PMID: 21045638. [Free Full Text]

CCC 700 6

Critical Care


Chris is an Intensivist and ECMO specialist at the Alfred ICU in Melbourne. He is also a Clinical Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University. He is a co-founder of the Australia and New Zealand Clinician Educator Network (ANZCEN) and is the Lead for the ANZCEN Clinician Educator Incubator programme. He is on the Board of Directors for the Intensive Care Foundation and is a First Part Examiner for the College of Intensive Care Medicine. He is an internationally recognised Clinician Educator with a passion for helping clinicians learn and for improving the clinical performance of individuals and collectives.

After finishing his medical degree at the University of Auckland, he continued post-graduate training in New Zealand as well as Australia’s Northern Territory, Perth and Melbourne. He has completed fellowship training in both intensive care medicine and emergency medicine, as well as post-graduate training in biochemistry, clinical toxicology, clinical epidemiology, and health professional education.

He is actively involved in in using translational simulation to improve patient care and the design of processes and systems at Alfred Health. He coordinates the Alfred ICU’s education and simulation programmes and runs the unit’s education website, INTENSIVE.  He created the ‘Critically Ill Airway’ course and teaches on numerous courses around the world. He is one of the founders of the FOAM movement (Free Open-Access Medical education) and is co-creator of litfl.com, the RAGE podcast, the Resuscitology course, and the SMACC conference.

His one great achievement is being the father of three amazing children.

On Twitter, he is @precordialthump.

| INTENSIVE | RAGE | Resuscitology | SMACC

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