PURPOSE: Acute respiratory failure is a relatively common complication in surgical patients, especially after abdominal surgery. Non-invasive ventilation (NIV) is increasingly used in the treatment of acute respiratory failure. We have assessed the usefulness of NIV in surgical patients with acute respiratory failure. METHODS: We retrospectively reviewed the medical charts of patients who were admitted to a surgical intensive care unit between March 2007 and February 2008 with acute respiratory failure. The patients who have got respiratory care for secondary reason such as sepsis and encephalopathy were excluded from this study. RESULTS: Of the 74 patients who were treated with mechanical ventilation, 15 underwent NIV and 59 underwent invasive ventilation. The causes of acute respiratory failure in the NIV group were atelectasis in 5 patients, pneumonia in 5, acute lung injury in 4, and pulmonary edema in 1, this group included 3 patients with acute respiratory failure after extubation. Overall success rate of NIV was 66.7%. CONCLUSION: NIV may be an alternative to conventional ventilation in surgical patients with acute respiratory failure. Use of NIV may avoid re-intubation in patients who develop respiratory failure after intubation.