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Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

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Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a serious condition in adults due to injuries or acute infections of the lungs. This condition leads to death in most people who suffer from it.

What is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)?

When the body fails to receive enough oxygen from the lungs, it leads to acute respiratory distress syndrome. Fluid builds up in the alveoli, that is, tiny air sacs of the lungs. As the amount of fluid increases in the lungs, less amount of oxygen reaches the bloodstream. Thus, leading to oxygen-deprivedorgans and their distress.

Who Develops ARDS?

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) occurs in people who are critically ill. It can strike anyone as young as 1 year old. ARDS is seen in people who are unwell from other medical disease or have major injuries. Most of the patients are already hospitalized when they develop this condition.

Symptoms of ARDS

The symptoms of ARDS are seen after an acute injury to the lungs causes the alveoli to be flooded with fluid. The symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Labored breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low oxygen levels leading to organ failure, rapid heart rate, abnormal heart rhythms, confusion,  extreme lethargy

Causes of ARDS

Acute respiratory distress syndrome  can occur due to many causes. These include medical conditions such as:

  • Sepsis
  • Multiple blood transfusions
  • Pulmonary contusion
  • Drug abuse/drug overdose
  • Gastric contents aspiration
  • Burns
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Pneumonia
  • Pancreatitis
  • Severe lung infection
  • Clot in the lungs

Other causes include:

  • Post-trauma resuscitation
  • Shock
  • Inhalation of irritants/ toxic fumes
  • Head or chest injury
  • Near drowning experience
  • Accidentally inhaling own vomit

Diagnosis of ARDS

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There are no specific tests to diagnose acute respiratory distress syndrome.  Diagnosis is based on test results after carrying out:

  • Blood pressure check
  • Chest X-ray
  • Blood tests to check for anemia or infections
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Echocardiogram
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Lung biopsy, in case, the case is difficult to establish

Treatment for ARDS

The aim of treatment for acute respiratory distress syndrome include increasing the blood oxygen level. Thus, the doctor will first:

  • Supply more oxygen through a mask that fits over the nose and mouth
  • Mechanical ventilation in most cases, that pushes air into the lungs
  • Careful management of intravenous fluids to prevent additional fluid buildup in the lungs
  • Medications that help in the prevention and treatment of infections, clots, gastric reflux and relieves the pain and discomfort of the chest

Acute respiratory distress syndrome can lead to many complications such as pulmonary embolism, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, cardiac arrhythmias/ myocardial dysfunction, malnutrition, acute renal failure, etc. The recovery from ARDS is a long process and every individual has to follow a different path to recovery. Make sure you join a support and rehabilitation group to overcome the problems with ARDS. Talk to your doctor regarding any concerns you have related to acute respiratory distress syndrome and its effects.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 01, 2015

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