Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) occurs when fluid builds up in the tiny, elastic air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs. More fluid in your lungs means less oxygen can reach your bloodstream. This deprives your organs of the oxygen they need to function.
ARDS typically occurs in people who are already critically ill or who have significant injuries. Severe shortness of breath — the main symptom of ARDS — usually develops within a few hours to a few days after the original disease or trauma.
Many people who develop ARDS don't survive. The risk of death increases with age and severity of illness. Of the people who do survive ARDS, some recover completely while others experience lasting damage to their lungs.
The signs and symptoms of ARDS can vary in intensity, depending on its cause and severity. They include:
When to see a doctor
The mechanical cause of ARDS is fluid leaked from the smallest blood vessels in the lungs into the tiny air sacs where blood is oxygenated. Normally, a protective membrane keeps this fluid in the vessels. Severe illness or injury, however, can cause inflammation that undermines the membrane's integrity, leading to the fluid leakage of ARDS.
The most common underlying causes of ARDS include:
Airways and air sacs of the lungs
Your bronchioles are some of the smallest airways in your lungs. Inhaled air passes through tiny ducts from the bronchioles into elastic air sacs (alveoli). The alveoli are surrounded by the alveolar-...
Most people who develop ARDS are already hospitalized for another condition, and many are critically ill. You're especially at risk if you have a widespread infection in your bloodstream (sepsis).
People who have a history of chronic alcoholism are at higher risk of developing ARDS. They're also more likely to die of ARDS.
ARDS is extremely serious, but thanks to improved treatments, more people are surviving it. However, many survivors end up with potentially serious — and sometimes lasting — complications, including:
Tests and diagnosis
There's no specific test to identify ARDS. A diagnosis is reached by ruling out other diseases and conditions — for example, certain heart problems — that can produce similar symptoms.
Treatments and drugs
The first goal in treating ARDS is to improve the levels of oxygen in your blood. Without oxygen, your organs can't function properly.
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you're recovering from ARDS, the following suggestions can help protect your lungs:
Coping and support
Recovery from ARDS can be a long road, and you'll need plenty of support. Although everyone's recovery is different, being aware of common physical and mental difficulties encountered by others with the disorder can help. Consider these tips:
Last Updated: 2011-05-07
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