Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is common in critically ill patients admitted to intensive care units (ICU). ARDS results in increased use of critical care resources and healthcare costs, yet the overall mortality associated with these conditions remains high. Research focusing on preventing ARDS and identifying patients at risk of developing ARDS is necessary to develop strategies to alter the clinical course and progression of the disease. To date, few strategies have shown clear benefits. One of the most important obstacles to preventive interventions is the difficulty of identifying patients likely to develop ARDS. Identifying patients at risk and implementing prevention strategies in this group are key factors in preventing ARDS. This review will discuss early identification of at-risk patients and the current prevention strategies. © 2013 de Haro et al.; licensee Springer.