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Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome
(ARDS; Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome; Non-cardiogenic Pulmonary Edema)
by Sonja Lyons
Adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a form of severe lung damage. It is a life-threatening lung condition. ARDS occurs in people who are very ill or severely injured. Most will already be under care in a hospital.
When oxygen is inhaled it passes through airways to small sacs of your lungs. These sacs are lined with small blood vessels. The oxygen can pass through the sacs and into the blood vessels. The blood will carry it through the body. With ARDS, these blood vessels leak into the lungs sacs. The fluid in the sacs blocks oxygen from passing into the body.
ARDS may be caused by direct injury to lung tissue such as:
Other conditions that may indirectly lead to ARDS include:
ARDS may also occur within few days of a lung or bone marrow transplantation.
Risk Factors TOP
The conditions above are main risk factors for ARDS. Although few with these conditions above will develop ARDS.
ARDS is more common in adults over the age of 65 years. Other factors that may increase your chance of ARDS include:
Symptoms often begin within 24 to 48 hours of the injury. They will also worsen with time. It may be a slow or rapid progress.
Symptoms may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. People who develop ARDS may be too sick to report their symptoms. Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your history, symptoms, and the results of tests.
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Your bodily structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
Though rare, the doctor may order a pulmonary artery catheterization. It can show how well the heart is working.
If you are able, talk with the doctor about the best plan for you. The goals of treatment are to:
Options to help improve oxygen levels in the blood while you recover include:
Sedation may be used to help tolerate these treatments. Oxygen and fluid levels will also be monitored by the medical team.
ARDS is not preventable. You may decrease your risk of ARDS if you avoid smoking or alcohol abuse.
American Lung Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated July 27, 2016. Accessed September 26, 2016.
Bosma KJ, Lewis JF. Emerging therapies for treatment of acute lung injury and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Expert Opin Emgerg Drugs. 2007;12(3): 461-477.
Explore ARDS. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated January 12, 2012. Accessed May 4, 2016.
Jain R, DaiNogare A. Pharmacological therapy for acute respiratory distress syndrome. Mayo Clin Proc. 2006;81(2):205-212.
Understanding ARDS. ARDS Support Center website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed May 4, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2017 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 4/25/2018
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