Background: Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a major contributor to respiratory morbidity and mortality after oesophagectomy. Several pre-, intra- and post-operative factors are thought to predispose to its development in the post-oesophagectomy period. The aim of this study was to determine factors predisposing to ARDS in the post-oesophagectomy period. Methods: A total of 112 patients who underwent elective oesophagectomy for oesophageal cancer (gastro-oesophageal adenocarcinoma and high-grade dysplasia, 93; oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma, 16; oesophageal oat cell tumour, 1; oesophageal anaplastic carcinoma, 1; oesophageal colloid carcinoma, 1) between 1 January 2003 and 31 December 2006 formed the study group in this retrospective study. The pre-, intra and post-operative data for these patients (male:female = 89:23, mean age 60.8 years) were collected from an oesophagectomy database and hospital medical records. Results: The incidence of ARDS was 13%. The in-hospital mortality among ARDS cases was 20% and 1-year mortality was 40%. Various factors such as preoperative chronic respiratory disease (P-value = 0.000, odds ratio = 17.76), smoking pack-years (P-value = 0.045, odds ratio = 1.02), abnormal preoperative forced expiratory volume in 1s (P-value = 0.009, odds ratio = 7.97), high percentage of oxygen in inspired air (P-value = 0.041, odds ratio = 1.24) and use of perioperative inotropes (P-value = 0.021, odds ratio = 4.26) were associated with ARDS. Conclusions: Preoperative physiological status as indicated by a preoperative history of chronic respiratory disease and preoperative pulmonary function influenced the post-operative outcome in our patients. The use of perioperative inotropes suggests perioperative cardiorespiratory instability, and could also predispose to the development of ARDS in the post-operative period.