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Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

by Brian K. Gehlbach, MD, Jesse B. Hall, MD

Acute respiratory distress syndrome is a type of respiratory (lung) failure resulting from many different disorders that cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs and oxygen levels in the blood to be too low.

  • The person experiences shortness of breath, usually with rapid, shallow breathing, the skin may become mottled or blue (cyanosis), and other organs such as the heart and brain may malfunction.

  • A blood sample is taken from an artery and analyzed to determine the levels of oxygen in the blood, and a chest x-ray is also taken.

  • People are treated in an intensive care unit because they may need mechanical ventilation.

  • Oxygen is given and the cause of the lung failure is treated.

The acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a medical emergency. It may occur in people who already have lung disease or in those with previously normal lungs. This syndrome used to be called the adult respiratory distress syndrome, although it can occur in children. The less severe form of this syndrome is called acute lung injury (ALI).

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