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Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)


Any medical condition that involves inadequate oxygen supply or air to the lungs and bloodstream needs to be taken seriously. One of the serious lung conditions is acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

ARDS is a life-threatening condition, and many patients do not survive the trauma it causes. Let us take a closer look at this medical condition – why it happens, how it can be treated, and the prognosis thereof.

What is acute respiratory distress syndrome?
What is acute respiratory distress syndrome?

So what is acute respiratory distress syndrome? Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is an inflammation or injury to the lungs. It is a life-threatening medical issue. ARDS results in pulmonary secretions and poor oxygen supply to the lungs. On the cellular level, ARDS is characterised by damage to the alveoli (air sacs), the tiny tubes that supply air to the lungs.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome  progresses with a build-up of fluid in the alveoli. The fluid prevents air from entering the lungs, which in turn restricts the supply of oxygen to the bloodstream.

ARDS can occur in a person who is already critically ill or who has experienced injuries. It occurs due to either an injury to the lungs or the respiratory system or an underlying infection. ARDS is a life-threatening condition, and many people don’t survive.


Acute respiratory distress syndrome symptoms might vary according to the cause and severity of the condition and the fitness level of the patient’s lungs. A person suffering from ARDS might exhibit the following symptoms:

If sepsis (infection of the blood) is the cause of acute respiratory distress syndrome, then the patient may exhibit symptoms of sepsis, such as low blood pressure and fever.


As we mentioned above, ARDS is a result of fluid blocking the alveoli due to injury or infection. The membrane that normally contains the fluid gets damaged, wherein the fluid leaks into the alveoli.

But why does this happen? Acute respiratory distress syndrome causes  include the following:


If there is an infection of the blood called sepsis, it can trigger ARDS.


Patients severely affected by COVID-19 can develop ARDS as one of the symptoms.

Severe pneumonia

In its advanced stage, pneumonia can affect all the lobes in the lungs. It results in acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Trauma to the head or chest

An accident like a car crash or a fall can cause direct damage to the lungs resulting in ARDS. It can also occur due to brain damage, wherein the part of the brain responsible for breathing gets damaged.

Inhalation of harmful substances

Smoking cigarettes can also cause acute respiratory distress syndrome, but it can also occur due to excessive inhalation of chemical fumes and cases where a victim gets nearly drowned.

Other causes

Other acute respiratory distress syndrome causes can be due to various illnesses and trauma like burns, massive blood transfusion and pancreatitis (infection of the pancreas).

Acute respiratory distress syndrome diagnosis and tests
Acute respiratory distress syndrome diagnosis and tests

If ARDS is suspected, the following tests are usually carried out for a positive acute respiratory distress syndrome diagnosis:


This is an ultrasonic test of the heart. It evaluates how well the heart is functioning.

Chest x-ray

Chest x-rays are carried out to detect the level of fluid accumulation in the lungs.

Blood test

Blood is collected and analysed to measure the oxygen level. It provides information on the severity of acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Computerised tomography (CT) scan

If more details are required to understand the condition of the lungs, a CT scan will provide information that cannot be acquired through a chest x-ray.

Secretion sampling

Using special equipment, a doctor may collect from the airways. It helps to make a positive acute respiratory distress syndrome diagnosis.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome treatment
Acute respiratory distress syndrome treatment

Now that the patient has been diagnosed with ARDS, what should be the line of treatment? Here are details of acute respiratory distress syndrome treatment for a patient suffering from ARDS:


Sedation helps in cases where the patient experiences extreme pain.

Mechanical ventilation

The patient is put on a mechanical ventilator, commonly known as a ventilator. It performs the function of the lungs. In milder cases, the patient may receive oxygen through an oxygen mask or a cannula on the nose.

Blood thinners

Because of oxygen deficiency, there is a high risk of blood clots developing. Blood thinners like aspirin are given to the patient to prevent blood clots.

Other lines of acute respiratory distress syndrome treatment include reducing fluid formation in the lungs and keeping the patient active with physical therapy to help the muscles regain strength.

There are no known drugs to treat ARDS directly, but work continues in researching a cure for this life-threatening medical condition.


ARDS prevention is not medically possible. It is more of a medical condition rather than a disease. ARDS is a life-threatening condition, but today, with advancements in medical equipment like sophisticated ventilators, the survival rate has increased considerably.

It can take a long time to recover from acute respiratory distress syndrome. Once the patient comes off the ventilator, they can breathe freely, but a complete recovery is not always guaranteed. Follow-up treatment needs to be done by a highly-qualified pulmonologist.

Patients suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome or who are recovering from it can visit the CK Birla Hospital for an expert opinion from our resident pulmonologist Dr Kuldeep Grover who will provide personalised and best-in-class treatment.

At the CK Birla Hospital, we employ healthcare professionals of the highest calibre using state-of-the-art facilities using cutting-edge technology to ensure full attention to each patient as they regain their health.

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