What Is the Most Common Cause of ARDS?

Medically Reviewed on 11/3/2020

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is dangerous lung damage
Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is dangerous lung damage

Sepsis (severe systemic infection) is the most common cause of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

ARDS is caused due to fluid leakage from the small lung vessels into the lung air sacs (alveoli). It causes difficulty in breathing and severe falls in oxygen in the body.

ARDS commonly occur due to lung injuries:

  • Major trauma and burn injuries that may directly damage the lungs and inflame them
  • Head, chest, or other major injuries
  • Sepsis (a life-threatening condition when chemicals are released into the bloodstream by your immune system to fight off infection)
  • Burns
  • Pneumonitis (swelling of the air sacs as a reaction to several agents)
  • Injury to the head, chest, or other organs of your body
  • Massive blood transfusions
  • Pancreatitis (severe inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Near drowning
  • Aspiration (breathing food into your lungs)
  • Viral infections such as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), herpes simplex virus (HSV), and cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • Breathing in harmful things, chemical fumes, and smoke
  • Drug overdoses such as cocaine and opioids
  • Medication side effect

Your risk of ARDS may increase if you have

  • Advanced age.
  • A history of tobacco use.
  • A history of alcohol use.
  • Chronic lung disease and are using oxygen.
  • Undergone high-risk surgery recently.
  • Undergone chemotherapy.
  • Excessive weight.

What does ARDS mean?

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is dangerous lung damage that allows fluid to leak into the lung air sacs (alveoli). This hampers the oxygen transfer process at the lung level. The body organs such as the kidney and brain stop working. The person will experience severe breathing difficulties, which will require immediate artificial oxygen support to help them breathe. It is an emergency condition and requires immediate medical attention.

It commonly occurs in critically ill people who are hospitalized for an injury or severe illnesses such as coronavirus (COVID-19), sepsis, pneumonia, and other conditions.

It can worsen quickly, usually developing within a few hours to a few days of the injury or infection. Chances of survival in people who develop ARDS depends on the age and severity of their co-existing medical issues. However, with time, treatments are improving, and more people survive ARDS now than they did in the past. Although many survive, there may be some lung damage in many individuals.

Fast diagnosis and treatment in ARDS are very important for the survival of patients.

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What are the symptoms of ARDS?

If you have acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), your symptom may vary in intensity, depending on its cause and severity, as well as the presence of an underlying heart or lung disease.

What are the complications?

Complications include:
  • Blood clots
  • Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
  • Infections due to tubes inserted into your windpipe
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (scarring and thickening of the tissue between the air sacs that stiffen your lungs, making it even more difficult for oxygen)
  • Breathing problems
  • Depression
  • Problems with memory and thinking clearly
  • Tiredness and muscle weakness

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Medically Reviewed on 11/3/2020
References
WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/lung/ards-acute-respiratory-distress-syndrome

Medscape: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/165139-overview

NIH: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/acute-respiratory-distress-syndrome

NIH: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK436002/

American Lung Association https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/ards

https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/ards/learn-about-ards

Cleveland clinic https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15283-acute-respiratory-distress-syndrome-ards

Mayoclinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ards/symptoms-causes/syc-20355576