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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


    Typically people with ARDS need to be in an intensive care unit (ICU).

    The goal of treatment is to provide breathing support and treat the underlying cause of ARDS. This may involve medications to treat infections, reduce inflammation, and remove fluid from the lungs.

    A breathing machine is used to deliver high doses of oxygen and a continuous level of pressure called PEEP (positive end-expiratory pressure) to the damaged lungs. Patients often need to be deeply sedated with medications when using this equipment.

    Treatment continues until you are well enough to breathe on your own.

    Support Groups

    Many family members of people with ARDS are under extreme stress. Often they can relieve this stress by joining support groups where members share common experiences and problems.

    See also: Lung disease - support group

    Expectations (prognosis)

    About a third of people with ARDS die from the disease. Survivors usually get back normal lung function, but many people have permanent, usually mild, lung damage.

    Many people who survive ARDS have memory loss or other problems with thinking after they recover. This is due to brain damage that occurred when the lungs weren't working properly and the brain wasn't getting enough oxygen.

    • Lung damage (such as pneumothorax) due to use of high settings on the breathing machine needed to treat the disease
    • Multiple organ system failure
    • Pulmonary fibrosis
    • Ventilator-associated pneumonia

    Calling your health care provider

    Usually, ARDS occurs during another illness, for which the patient is already in the hospital. Occasionally, a healthy person may develop severe pneumonia that gets worse and becomes ARDS. If you have trouble breathing, call your local emergency number (such as 911) or go to the emergency room.