Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 12 April 2021

Table of Contents:

  1. What Is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome?
  2. ARDS Causes and Risk Factors
  3. ARDS Symptoms
  4. ARDS Diagnosis and Tests
  5. ARDS Treatment
  6. ARDS Complications
  7. ARDS Outlook


Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

What Is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs, preventing oxygen from reaching the organs.

Fluid leaks from small blood vessels and accumulates in tiny air sacs in your lungs, preventing them from filling with enough air. As a result, your blood is unable to carry the oxygen it requires to the rest of the body. Organs such as your kidneys or brain may not function properly or may shut down.

ARDS can be life-threatening and can easily deteriorate. However, it is usually treatable, and the majority of people recover. It’s important to get a quick diagnosis and treatment.

ARDS Causes and Risk Factors

Since ARDS is normally triggered by another illness, most people who develop it are already in the hospital for another reason. ARDS can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

Sepsis. When your bloodstream becomes infected, your immune system goes into overdrive, which causes inflammation, small blood clots, and bleeding.

Accidents. Injuries from a car accident or a fall can harm your lungs or the part of your brain that regulates your breathing.

Breathing in harmful things. ARDS can be triggered by dense smoke or chemical fumes.

ARDS can also be caused by the following factors:

It is not clearly understood as to why some people develop ARDS while others do not. 

Among the risk factors are:

ARDS Symptoms

Your lungs are put under a lot of stress as a result of ARDS. The symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Low blood pressure
  • Unusually fast breathing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Chest pain, especially when breathing deeply
  • Confusion and exhaustion
  • Blue-tinted lips or nails from lack of oxygen in your blood
  • Dizziness

ARDS Diagnosis and Tests

There is no single test that can detect ARDS. More tests is essential to rule out any conditions that might cause similar symptoms.

Your doctor will inquire about your medical history, perform a physical examination, and look for signs and patterns to indicate ARDS. They may also check for:

  • Signs of excess fluid in your body
  • Changes in color on your lips or skin

Among the tests used to assist with diagnosis are:

Imaging tests. A chest X-ray is essential and will most probably be the first test ordered by your doctor. A CT scan may also be performed. These can help your doctor determine how much fluid is in your lungs and where it is located.

Blood tests. These tests will monitor your oxygen level. They can also look for signs of infection or anaemia, which is caused by the lack of red blood cells.

Heart tests. These tests can help rule out conditions such as heart failure (a condition in which your heart does not pump blood through your body as efficiently as it should).

ARDS Treatment

The goal of treatment is to restore normal oxygen levels in your blood, ensuring that your organs receive the oxygen they require. In some instances, your doctor may start with an air mask and gradually progress to a breathing tube and ventilator (a machine that helps you breathe).

Additionally, your doctor will treat any other conditions that may be contributing to your ARDS.

Treatments include:

  • Nutrition and medication delivered via fluids injected into the bloodstream.
  • Preventive medication for bleeding and blood clots
  • Medication to keep you calm and comfortable

The majority of ARDS treatment occurs in the intensive care unit of a hospital. Numerous people make a complete recovery with no long-term complications.

ARDS Complications

Other complications may arise as a result of the condition or its treatment, including the following:

  • Collapse of a portion of your lung due to inability to inflate properly (atelectasis) or due to air trapped between your lung and your chest wall (pneumothorax)
  • Organ damage or failure
  • Confusion
  • High blood pressure in the artery that connects your heart to your lungs (pulmonary hypertension)
  • Scarred lung tissue (pulmonary fibrosis)
  • Blood clots
  • Infection

ARDS Outlook

If you have ARDS recently, improve healing by:

  • Not smoking
  • Not drinking alcohol
  • Receiving a flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine every year, as directed by your doctor
  • You may need to be on a ventilator for some time. Since ARDS will make you frail, you may need to go to physical therapy to strengthen yourself.

Patients and their families can struggle emotionally and physically as a result of ARDS. A supportive community may help reduce their anxiety, stress or depression.


Referenced on 7.4.2021

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  14. National Science Review: “On the origin and continuing evolution of SARS-CoV-2.”
  15. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control: “Rapid increase of a SARS-CoV-2 variant with multiple spike protein mutations observed in the United Kingdom.”

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