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General Information About ARDS


What is ARDS? The acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a condition in which the lungs become very inflamed. This causes fluid to leak out of the blood vessels of the lungs and flood the lungs’ air sacs (alveoli). Inflammation also causes some cells to accumulate in the air sacs, and it may cause some air sacs to collapse. Patients with ARDS feel short of breath, and their lungs may not get enough oxygen from the air into the blood stream.

What causes ARDS? Pneumonia is the most common cause of ARDS. Other causes include severe infections in other parts of the body, severe trauma, severe pancreatitis, and severe transfusion reactions. Each of these diseases can lead directly or indirectly to inflammation in the lungs.

Who is at risk of getting ARDS?  Anybody can get ARDS, including young and old, men and women, and people who are perfectly healthy before contracting one of the diseases than can cause ARDS. Patients with chronic diseases such as AIDS and cancer or patients taking medications such as prednisone that decrease their defenses against infections are more likely to experience ARDS.

How common is ARDS? Approximately 190,000 patients experience ARDS each year in the United States.

How serious is ARDS? It is a life-threatening problem. We estimate that 39% of patients with ARDS die before discharge from the hospital. The death rate is higher in the elderly and in patients who have chronic diseases such as kidney failure, AIDS, and COPD.

Are there long-term consequences to survivors of ARDS? In most survivors, the inflammation in the lungs resolves without causing significant impairments in lung function. Most survivors do not have serious breathing problems several months after experiencing ARDS. However, some survivors have other problems such as muscle weakness, depression, and memory loss that may persist for many months or even years after survival from ARDS.

How can ARDS be prevented? Vaccinations against influenza and pneumonia can prevent some cases of ARDS. If a patient has a fever, cough, and chest pain, he or she could have pneumonia. Early treatment with antibiotics may prevent it from progressing to ARDS. Early treatment of other infections may also prevent ARDS.

How is ARDS treated? Many patients with ARDS must be treated in an intensive care unit (ICU) because they need breathing support from a mechanical ventilator. In most cases, the ventilator can provide enough oxygen and get rid of enough carbon dioxide to buy time for antibiotics to work and for the body’s natural healing processes to occur. Rapid administration of the right antibiotics is very important. Other aspects of treatment include fluid management (reduce unnecessary fluids in the body), nutritional support (usually through a tube placed in the stomach), and use of some medications to prevent complication such as internal bleeding and blood clots.

Source: Roy Brower, MD — Member, ATS Board of Directors

Four Facts About ARDS
  1. Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is defined as an acute process, which results in moderate to severe loss of lung function.

  2. Approximately 150,000-200,000 Americans will be diagnosed with ARDS each year.  Worldwide, that number is approximately 2.2 million

  3. There is no known prevention for ARDS at the present time.  Nor is there any known cure.  ARDS patients are treated with supportive care, most often in the Intensive Care Unit.

  4. Although ARDS is always a critical syndrome, more than half of the patients who are diagnosed with ARDS survive.

 (Source:  ARDSusa.org)