Acute respiratory distress syndrome
Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a life-threatening lung condition that prevents enough oxygen from getting into the blood.
See also: Infant respiratory distress syndrome
ARDS can be caused by any major swelling (inflammation) or injury to the lung. Some common causes include:
- Breathing vomit into the lungs (aspiration)
- Inhaling chemicals
- Septic shock
ARDS leads to a buildup of fluid in the air sacs. This fluid prevents enough oxygen from passing into the bloodstream.
The fluid buildup also makes the lungs heavy and stiff, and decreases the lungs' ability to expand. The level of oxygen in the blood can stay dangerously low, even if the person receives oxygen from a breathing machine (mechanical ventilator) through a breathing tube (endotracheal tube).
ARDS often occurs along with the failure of other organ systems, such as the liver or the kidneys. Cigarette smoking and heavy alcohol use may be risk factors.
- Labored, rapid breathing
- Low blood pressure and organ failure
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms usually develop within 24 to 48 hours of the original injury or illness. Often, people with ARDS are so sick they are unable to complain of symptoms.
Typically people with ARDS need to be in an intensive care unit (ICU).
The goal of treatment is to provide breathing support and treat the underlying cause of ARDS. This may involve medications to treat infections, reduce inflammation, and remove fluid from the lungs.
A breathing machine is used to deliver high doses of oxygen and a continuous level of pressure called PEEP (positive end-expiratory pressure) to the damaged lungs. Patients often need to be deeply sedated with medications when using this equipment.
Treatment continues until you are well enough to breathe on your own.
About a third of people with ARDS die from the disease. Survivors usually get back normal lung function, but many people have permanent, usually mild, lung damage.
Many people who survive ARDS have memory loss or other problems with thinking after they recover. This is due to brain damage that occurred when the lungs weren't working properly and the brain wasn't getting enough oxygen.