The relationship between the respiratory index (RI = alveolar-arterial oxygen gradient [P(A-a)O2] normalized by PaO2) and the pulmonary shunt (Qsp/Qt) has been examined in 929 studies from 240 critically ill post-traumatic patients. Of these, 88 patients (443 studies) were individuals who developed post-traumatic adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and 152 were patients (486 studies) who did not develop ARDS. This study demonstrates that the RI to Qsp/Qt [RI/(Qsp/Qt)] relationship was significantly (p < .0001) increased in patients who developed fatal ARDS compared with those who did not develop ARDS, or with those whose ARDS resolved. Because of the increased oxygen consumption (QO2) in ARDS patients in association with their severe limitations in gas exchange (RI) and increased Qsp/Qt, surviving ARDS patients had a significant increase in the cardiac index which resulted in a higher oxygen delivery to QO2 ratio. ARDS patients showed significant (p < .0001) evidence of increased pulmonary vascular tone, correlated with the increase in the RI/(Qsp/Qt) relationship. In addition, those patients with high RI/(Qsp/Qt) also had increased right ventricular (RVSW) to left ventricular work (LVSW) ratios which were shown to be a direct function of the rise in RI. This increase in both RVSW/LVSW and RI/(Qsp/Qt) ratios was significantly (p < .0001) correlated with an increased mortality. Thus, the RI/(Qsp/Qt) relationship, which can be obtained from arterial and mixed venous blood gases and saturations only, can be used to predict the severity of the ARDS process as well as important pulmonary vascular and right ventricular overload consequences.