1 What is ARDS?

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a life-threatening lung condition in which fluid fills the air sacs in the lungs.

This affects the air exchange in the lungs and reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood.

When the organs get less oxygen it can lead to organ failure. It is more frequently seen in critically ill patients in hospitals.

It progresses rapidly and needs immediate medical attention. In some rare cases, patients with pneumonia may also develop this lung condition.

It can be fatal to patients who are severely ill and the the risk increases with age.

Most of the patients recover while some may have persistent damage to the lungs.

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2 Symptoms

Symptoms of ARDS develop within a day or two of injury or illness.

The most common symptom of acute respiratory distress syndrome is difficulty breathing.

Breathing becomes rapid and blood pressure is usually low. Skin and/or nails may show discoloration.

The patient complains of weakness and muscle fatigue.

Some have a dry cough with fever and headache.

3 Causes

ARDS is caused by the damage to blood vessels that leads to leakage of fluid into the air sacs.

As the air sacs get filled with fluid, oxygen exchange becomes difficult. This reduces the amount of oxygen dissolved in the blood.

Some of the common causes of ARDS are:

  • Inhalation of smoke, chemicals or vomit
  • A severe infection of the blood, called sepsis
  • Severe lung infection
  • Injury of the chest or head
  • Overdose of sedatives and antidepressants

It is more commonly found in people who are hospitalized for another medical condition.

The risk of developing ARDS increases with age.

Smoking, alcoholism, and chronic lung disease also increase the chances of getting this lung condition.

ADRS becomes serious in people who are alcoholics, have toxic shock, or are alcoholic.

4 Making a Diagnosis

There is no single test to diagnose ARDS. ARDS is an emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

Doctors conduct a battery of tests to rule out the chances of other conditions that have similar symptoms.

The common diagnostic tests are:

  • X-ray – helps to locate and assess the extent of fluid back up in the lungs
  • CT scan – is useful to create images of structures within the lungs and heart
  • Blood tests – blood tests reveal the presence of infection and anemia
  • Heart tests – tests like echocardiograms and electrocardiograms reveal the structure and functioning of the heart. This helps to rule out the chances of heart problems that will result in similar symptoms

Other suggested tests include blood and urine cultures, sputum cultures and analysis, arterial blood gas levels, and a bronchoscopy.

5 Treatment

Improving levels of oxygen in the blood is the first step of treating ARDS.

For this, supplemental oxygen may be administered or mechanical ventilation is provided.

This helps to push more air into the lungs and eliminate some of the fluid that has accumulated in the lungs.


Medications are used to control infections.

Drugs are prescribed for relieving pain and to prevent the formation of blood clots.

Drugs also help in reducing gastric reflux.

6 Prevention

ARDS can be prevented by paying close attention when you experience a chest injury or infection.

ARDS is most commonly found in people who are already hospitalized, diagnosis in high-risk patients will enable immediate treatment of the lung condition.

There is no specific preventive treatment strategy in patients with sepsis.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Alternate remedies have insufficient evidence in treating ADRS.

Borage, ginger and N-acetyl cysteine are common natural remedies used to reduce the symptoms of this lung condition.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Avoiding smoking, alcohol, and following a healthy lifestyle are very important components in controlling and coping with ARDS.

Recovery from ARDS takes a long time and patients may need more support.

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are useful in coping with the recovery and for getting back into personal routine.

Joining a support group also helps to discuss the problems.

9 Risks and Complications

Many patients with ADRS may develop complications like:

  • Lung fibrosis
  • Lung collapse
  • Blood clots
  • Infections
  • Abnormal lung function
  • Emotional problems

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