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: 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: October 29

I was feeling short of breath and had non-productive cough always around December for the past few years. But starting in November 2013 I noticed uphill walking I was very short of breath. By December others at work were sick where I work. On 1-14-14 I had temperature 102.9 and vomiting. I was treated for flu symptoms and for two days I was home fighting flu. On 1-16-14 I was in the emergency room (ER) with 103 pulse and oxygen 84. I spent 42 days in hospital, developed MRSA in heart and lungs. Diagnosis was pulmonary fibrosis to needing lung transplant; my only smoke was from fire pit and grill raking moldy leaves. Final I have ARDS; I was healthy up to this time.

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Comment from: Gail, 75 or over Male (Caregiver) Published: December 10

My father at age 83 had colon resection surgery, surgery was a success, but patient died of ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome). At 53 he had lower lung surgery due to x-ray finding a spot on the lung. It was six weeks until he recovered from breathing problems, and had no more fluid in in the lungs. I have no information as to the lung issue although he was on the same medicine my daughter was on for a 'TB' exposure finding. I did not bring this up to the doctors in the last surgery, I wonder if the two of these incidents could have been related. Perhaps he might have had ARDS the first time.

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