Acute respiratory distress syndrome, commonly referred to as ARDS, can be a life-threatening condition that occurs when fluid builds within the lungs.  When fluid collects in the tiny sacs that reside in the lungs, breathing can become very difficult which can lead to a deprivation of the oxygen that healthy organs need in order to function. This process, most often, will lead to a sudden failure of the respiratory system. Typically, ARDS affects individuals who have experienced a traumatic injury or are critically ill.


A number of conditions and injuries can cause lungs to build with fluid and become inflamed.  Viral or bacterial illnesses such as pneumonia or an infection within the bloodstream are both common causes.  Traumatic injuries such as a head or chest injury, smoke inhalation, suffocation or drowning can also be likely causes.  People who are very heavy drinkers or smokers, who have any type of widespread infection in the bloodstream, or who suffer from any type of chronic liver disease are an exceptionally higher risk for developing ARDS.


People who have ARDS will usually experience symptoms within a matter of hours or days and they will vary in intensity.  In many cases, the patient is oftentimes already at the hospital undergoing treatment for a condition or injury that has led to the ARDS. Most people suffering from ARDS will experience a severe shortness of breath, fast and rapid breathing, low blood pressure, nausea, exhaustion and sometimes, fever.


If the patient’s condition is not chronic and there is a chance for survival, in almost all cases of ARDS, the most important treatment is to get oxygen flowing to the lungs and organs as soon as possible.  Using a ventilator and supplemental oxygen usually helps to assist this effort.  Managing fluids with the help of an IV and certain medications will also be given to help treat the infection or injury, as well as to relieve pain and discomfort.