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General Information About ARDS


What is ARDS?

ARDS, or the acute respiratory distress syndrome, is a condition in which a patient’s lungs become severely injured, causing low oxygen levels and breathing failure. Breathing failure is also called respiratory failure. This injury occurs over hours or days and is usually related to another sudden illness or injury.

What causes ARDS?

ARDS can occur in many medical or surgical situations. Patients with severe pneumonia, near drowning, or those who choke on stomach contents can develop ARDS due to direct injury to the lungs. Patients with severe infections or inflammation in parts of the body other than the lungs can develop ARDS due to toxic substances that circulate in the blood as a result of those illnesses. Patients who have bruising of the lung from car accidents or other trauma can also develop ARDS.

Is there a treatment for ARDS?

There is no specific drug available to treat ARDS. Care for a patient with ARDS includes safe support for respiratory failure while direct treatments for the other underlying illnesses are provided. Respiratory failure is supported by a breathing machine until the patient’s lungs improve. This breathing machine provides breaths for the patient through a tube going through the patient’s mouth or neck, or sometimes by a tight fitting mask. Care of ARDS almost always takes place in a hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU).

How well do patients recover from ARDS?

ARDS is a very severe condition. As many as 4 out of every 10 patients who develop ARDS may die in the hospital as a result of their ARDS and their other severe medical and surgical problems. Some patients who survive hospitalization may die within the next 6 months due to new or recurrent medical problems. Many hospital survivors also must contend with muscle weakness and even new difficulties in thinking as a result of their severe illness. Helping patients to move, stand, and walk during their illness is important to maintain strength.

What can I do about ARDS?

Despite the severity of the condition, many improvements have been made in the care of patients with ARDS, and patient survival is much better than it once was. This improvement is due to medical research on how to improve care. But clearly more improvements are needed, so please support new research for the condition in any way that you can. This can be accomplished through letters to your government representatives supporting ARDS research and support through the ARDS Foundation.

Four Facts About ARDS

  • Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) is an acute process, which results in moderate to severe loss of lung function. 

  • In ARDS there is intense inflammation of the lung tissue, which can be caused by a variety of factors. This inflammation in the lung results in a loss of function.

  • The alveoli lose their ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide with the blood. This loss of function of the alveoli is due to collapse of the air sacs and leakage of fluid (which is called edema) into the air sacs.

  • This sequence of events can happen rapidly. It can start in one lung and advance to the other. If the inflammation persists over time, the lungs will eventually attempt to heal the damage, which results in the formation of scar tissue.  The formation of scar tissue will continue to create a problem with gas (oxygen and carbon dioxide) exchange.