• A rapidly developing, life-threatening condition in which the lung is damaged to a point where it cannot perform its job of gas exchange properly.
  • This can occur when a major injury or extreme inflammation somewhere in the body injures the small blood vessels, including those in the lungs.
    • This results in the the lungs being unable to fill with air and cannot transfer enough oxygen into the blood.
  • Lung damage can be direct or indirect.

Causes of direct injury:

  • Breathing in smoke or poisonous chemicals
  • Breathing in stomach contents while throwing up (aspiration)
  • Near drowning
  • Pneumonia
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a lung infection

Causes of indirect injury:

  • Bacterial blood infection (sepsis)
  • Drug overdose
  • Having many blood transfusions
  • Heart-lung bypass
  • Infection or irritation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • Severe bleeding from a traumatic injury (such as a car accident)
  • Severe hit to the chest or head

Most common conditions related to ARDS:

  • Sepsis
  • Trauma
  • Lung infections i.e. pneumonia

Symptoms of ARDS come on suddenly, usually within hours or days of the event that initially caused injury to the lung.

Three main signs and symptoms:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Feeling like one cannot get enough air in one’s lungs
  • Low blood oxygen levels

This is a medical emergency. May lead to death without immediate treatment.


  • Physician may do/request:
    • History & Physical Exam
  • Other additional tests such as:
    • Chest X-ray
    • Complete blood count and other blood tests
    • Sputum culture
    • Lung CT scan
    • Heart tests to rule out heart failure



  • Most people who develop ARDS are very sick and already in the hospital. A person who has ARDS is admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU).
  • There is no specific treatment for ARDS.
    • Main goals are to support breathing and allow the lungs of patient to recover.
      • This involves the use of a mechanical ventilator and supplementary oxygen.
    • The underlying cause of ARDS must be treated as well.

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