ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) - Experience

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ARDS Facts*

*ARDS facts Medically Edited by: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

  • ARDS, or acute respiratory distress syndrome, is a lung condition that leads to low oxygen levels in the blood. ARDS can be life threatening. This is because your body's organs, such as the kidneys and brain, need oxygen-rich blood to work properly.
  • Most people who develop ARDS are in the hospital for other serious health problems. Rarely, people who aren't hospitalized have health problems that lead to ARDS, such as severe pneumonia. If you have trouble breathing, call your doctor right away. If you have severe shortness of breath, call 911.
  • In ARDS, infections, injuries, or other conditions cause the lung's tiny blood vessels to leak more fluid than normal into the lungs' air sacs. This prevents the lungs from filling with air and moving enough oxygen into the bloodstream.
  • Some common conditions and factors that can lead to ARDS are sepsis, pneumonia, severe bleeding caused by an injury, an injury to the chest or head, breathing in harmful fumes or smoke, and inhaling vomited stomach contents from the mouth.
  • People at risk for ARDS have a condition or illness that can directly or indirectly injure their lungs.
  • The first signs and symptoms of ARDS are feeling like you can't get enough air into your lungs, rapid breathing, and low oxygen levels in the blood. Other signs and symptoms depend on the cause of the condition. They may occur before ARDS develops.
  • Your doctor will diagnose ARDS based on your medical history, a physical exam, and the results from tests.
  • ARDS is treated with oxygen therapy, fluids, and medicines. Treatments are done in a hospital's intensive care unit. Patients who have ARDS may develop other medical problems while in the hospital. The most common problems are infections, pneumothorax (collapsed lung), lung scarring, and blood clots.
  • Some people fully recover from ARDS. Others continue to have health problems. These problems may include shortness of breath, tiredness and muscle weakness, depression, and problems with memory and thinking clearly.
  • You can take steps to recover from ARDS and improve your quality of life. Ask your family and friends to help with everyday activities. Don't smoke and avoid secondhand smoke and other lung irritants, such as harmful fumes. Go to pulmonary rehabilitation if you doctor recommends it. Join a support group for ARDS. Seek help from your health care team if you feel depressed.
  • ARDS treatment has improved in recent years. As a result, more people are surviving ARDS. Researchers are studying new treatments for the condition.
Return to ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome)

See what others are saying

Comment from: i3xlucky, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: April 22

I had surgery in early February. Two days later I was taken to the emergency room (ER) with a strange cough. When I got there my SAT (oxygen saturation) rate was 28%. I was on life support for nine days for ARDS. I also went into septic shock. I was eventually transferred to the rehabilitation unit of the hospital and am once again able to walk, stand, and take care of my personal needs. This was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was told that had I not gone to rehab I would have been in a nursing home the rest of my life. This is very scary stuff.

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Comment from: Charles, 65-74 Male (Patient) Published: May 09

I was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia about 1 1/2 years ago, with an oxygen level of 80. The pneumonia morphed into acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and I spent nearly three weeks in the ICU, the first several days with a ventilator. After I was released I was on oxygen for approximately two months and soon started physical therapy. I am told by my pulmonologist that my lungs are damaged, but my pulmonary function tests have been normal and I generally feel pretty good. I am fortunate, I suppose, but also feel somewhat depressed at times and reclusive. I attribute those feelings to my bout with ARDS.

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