BACKGROUND: Mechanical ventilation constitutes the last therapeutic method for acute respiratory failure when oxygen therapy and medical treatment fail to improve the respiratory status of the patient. This invasive ventilation, classically administered by endotracheal intubation or by tracheostomy, is associated with significant mortality and morbidity. Consequently, any less invasive method able to avoid the use of endotracheal ventilation would appear to be useful in high risk patient. Over recent years, the efficacy of nasal mask ventilation has been demonstrated in the treatment of chronic restrictive respiratory failure, particularly in patients with neuromuscular diseases. More recently, this method has been successfully used in the treatment of acute respiratory failure due to parenchymal disease. METHOD: We assessed the efficacy of Bilevel positive airway pressure(BiPAP) in the treatment of acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease(COPD). This study prospectively evaluated the clinical effectiveness of a treatment schedule with positive pressure ventilation via nasal mask(Respironics BiPAP device) in 22 patients with acute exacerbations of COPD. Eleven patients with acute exacerbations of COPD were treated with nasal pressure support ventilation delivered via a nasal ventilatory support system plus standard treatment for 3 consecutive days. An additional 11 control patients were treated only with standard treatment. The standard treatment consisted of medical and oxygen therapy. The nasal BiPAP was delivered by a pressure support ventilator in spontaneous timed mode and at an inspiratory positive airway pressure 6-8cmH2O and an expiratory positive airway pressure 3-4cmH2O. Patients were evaluated with physical examination(respiratory rate), modified Borg scale and arterial blood gas before and after the acute therapeutic intervention. RESULTS: Pretreatment and after 3 days of treatment, mean PaO2 was 56.3mmHg and 79.1mmHg (p<0.05) in BiPAP group and 56.9mmHg and 70.2mmHg (p<0.05) in conventional treatment (CT) group and PaCO2 was 63.9mmHg and 56.9mmHg (p<0.05) in BiPAP group and 53mmHg and 52.8mmHg in CT group respectively. pH was 7.36 and 7.41 (p<0.05) in BiPAP group and 7.37 and 7.38 in CT group respectively. Pretreatment and after treatment, mean respiratory rate was 28 and 23 beats/min in BiPAP group and 25 and 20 beats/min in CT group respectively. Borg scale was 7.6 and 4.7 in BiPAP group and 6.4 and 3.8 in CT group respectively. There were significant differences between the two groups in changes of mean PaO2, PaCO2 and pH respectively. CONCLUSION: We conclude that short-term nasal pressure-support ventilation delivered via nasal BiPAP in the treatment of acute exacerbation of COPE), is an efficient mode of assisted ventilation for improving blood gas values and dyspnea sensation and may reduce the need for endotracheal intubation with mechanical ventilation.