Facebook Pixel

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome: Life-Threatening Lung Injury

Rate This
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome is a serious lung injury  Medioimages/Photodisc/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a respiratory condition where insufficient oxygen gets into the lungs and blood. It is life-threatening and is caused by injury to the lungs.

What Types of Injury Cause ARDS?

The following injuries can cause ARDS:

• Pneumonia -- can result in scarring of lung tissue, making it difficult for lungs to work properly)

• Influenza -- usually a moderate illness but can be more severe in the very young, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems

• Trauma involving severe chest injury

• Lung transplantation surgery

• Vomit aspiration -- can occur if intoxicated or as a result of illness or disability, or aspiration of food

• Inhalation of chemicals

• Septic shock -- where infection spreads throughout the body

• Drug overdose

• Near drowning

• Smoke inhalation

• Acute pancreatitis -- inflammation from the pancreas can spread throughout the body

• Fracture of one of the long bones -- fat particles can be released where they can travel up into the lungs and cause respiratory difficulty

What are the Symptoms of ARDS?

Symptoms are shortness of breath, tiredness, drowsiness or confusion, difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, blue lips, fingers and toes.

Often, people who develop ARDS are seriously ill so they cannot complain of symptoms. The majority of those affected have already been hospitalized due to serious illness.

The condition is diagnosed by blood tests, chest X-rays and a bronchoscopy. A bronchoscopy is a telescope that is put through the nose or mouth and then through the trachea (windpipe) and into the lungs.

This allows the doctors to see inside the airways and lungs. This is usually done with a local anaesthetic spray so the patient doesn’t feel too much discomfort.


Treatment is intensive care. A third of sufferers will die of the condition.

A breathing machine is used to deliver high dose oxygen into the damaged lungs.

The patient is usually sedated or medically paralysed when using this machine as this increases the chance of survival.

Total nutrition will be given through an IV line. Medicines can also be given to reduce inflammation, treat infection and remove fluid from the lungs.

Many people with ARDS can fully recover with no aftereffects, but some may suffer permanent scarring to the lungs or memory problems due to the brain having been starved of oxygen.

If you or your family member has had ARDS and you would like some support, please contact the ARDS Support Center at http://www.ards.org/


Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, PubMed Health. Web. 10 July 2012.

Respiratory Distress Syndrome, NHS Choices. Web. 10 July 2012.

Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/

She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and has an A grade diploma in Neuro-psychological Immunology, which is the study of how the mind affects the immune system.

Reviewed July 10, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a CommentComments

There are no comments yet. Be the first one and get the conversation started!

Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Lung Conditions

Get Email Updates

Lung Conditions Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!