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Acute respiratory distress syndrome

  • Alternative Names

    Noncardiogenic pulmonary edema; Increased-permeability pulmonary edema; Stiff lung; Shock lung; ARDS; Acute lung injury

    • Labored, rapid breathing
    • Low blood pressure and organ failure
    • Shortness of breath

    Symptoms usually develop within 24 to 48 hours of the original injury or illness. Often, people with ARDS are so sick they are unable to complain of symptoms.

    Signs and tests

    Listening to the chest with a stethoscope (auscultation) reveals abnormal breath sounds, such as crackles that suggest fluid in the lungs. Often the blood pressure is low. Cyanosis (blue skin, lips, and nails caused by lack of oxygen to the tissues) is often seen.

    Tests used to diagnose ARDS include:

    • Arterial blood gas
    • Bronchoscopy
    • CBC and blood chemistries
    • Chest x-ray
    • Sputum cultures and analysis
    • Tests for possible infections

    Occasionally an echocardiogram or Swan-Ganz catheterization may need to be done to rule out congestive heart failure, which can look similar to ARDS on a chest x-ray.