Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)



What is acute respiratory distress syndrome?

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a life-threatening lung condition that occurs when fluid fills up the air sacs in your lung and prevents your organs from getting the oxygen. ARDS typically occurs in critically ill patient and this is a medical emergency.

How common is acute respiratory distress syndrome?

This acute respiratory distress is extremely common. Acute respiratory distress syndrome commonly affects hospitalized people who are very ill. Infants can also have respiratory distress syndrome. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of acute respiratory distress syndrome?

Symptoms usually occur within one or two days of the original illness or injury. The common symptoms of acute respiratory distress are:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Mental confusion
  • Discolored skin or nails because of the severely decreased oxygen levels in the blood.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

ADRD is a medical emergency. Most patients with acute respiratory distress are already hospitalized.


What causes acute respiratory distress syndrome?

ARDS is caused by fluid leaked from the smallest blood vessels in the lungs into the tiny air sacs where blood is oxygenated.

The causes of ARDS can be classified into two groups: direct and indirect to the lung. Some common causes include:

  • Breathing stomach contents into the lungs (aspiration)
  • Inhalation of harmful substances
  • Lung transplant
  • Medical conditions: sepsis (the most common cause of ARDS), pneumonia, inflammation of pancreas
  • Trauma, such as a car accident.
  • Medication, such as nitrofurantoin or overdosing of morphine, methadone
  • Severe bleeding for which a blood transfusion is needed

Risk factors

What increases my risk for acute respiratory distress syndrome?

There are many risk factors for acute respiratory distress, such as:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Adult over 65 years old
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Wide spread infection in your bloodstream
  • Recent high-risk surgery or chemotherapy
  • Low protein in the blood
  • Alcohol abuse

Diagnosis & Treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.


How is acute respiratory distress syndrome diagnosed?

There is no single test to confirm the diagnosis of ARDS. Tests used to diagnosed ARDS include:

  • Chest X-ray. It may show which parts of your lungs and how much of the lungs have fluid inside and whether your heart is enlarged.
  • Blood gases. Your blood from an artery is measured oxygen level.
  • Blood test. This test provides information about how your body is working.
  • throat and nose swabs
  • Heart tests, such as electrocardiogram, echocardiogram.

How is acute respiratory distress syndrome treated?

Patients with ARDS are usually treated in an intensive care unit (ICU). The treatment is aimed to keep enough oxygen in the blood to prevent organ failure and treat the cause of ARDS.

Ventilator. All patients with ARDS will require oxygen therapy. Oxygen alone is usually not enough, and peatient need to be supported by a machine to breath.

Positive End-Expiratory Pressure (PEEP). A technique known as positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) helps control the pressure in the lungs, increase lung functioning and decrease lung injury from using a ventilator.

Management of fluids. Too much fluid in the body can lead to fluid buildup in the lungs. Too little fluid can cause the organs and heart to become strained and shock. The amount of intravenous fluids should be managed carefully.


  • Pain medication can relieve pain and discomfort.
  • Antibiotics can prevent and treat an infection.
  • Antianxiety medicine helps patient feel calm and relaxed.
  • Blood thinners can prevent clots in the lungs or legs.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage acute respiratory distress syndrome?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with acute respiratory distress:

  • Stop smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.
  • Stop drinking alcohol.
  • Get vaccinated. The yearly flu shot and the pneumonia vaccine every five years, can reduce your risk of lung infections.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: March 12, 2017 | Last Modified: April 16, 2017

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