What Is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome? An Inside Look At the Causes and Treatment

What Is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome? An Inside Look At the Causes and Treatment

Jun 01, 2020

If you have any form of respiratory distress, to perform daily tasks becomes an uphill task. Any reduction of oxygen supply in your body means that you will have less energy in your body. Also, you will have decreases mental performance because the brain cells are not receiving the optimum amount of oxygen.

One of the conditions that affect the lungs is respiratory distress syndrome. It is a severe condition and can be frightening for anyone. The chances of recovery and survival are higher for people who start recovering before the onset of organ failure.


ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) is a condition that is caused by blockage of airways because of fluid buildup in the lungs inhibiting proper oxygen flow in the body.

Typically, there are leaks from small blood vessels that collect in tiny air sacs which are in the lungs. This hinders the lungs from being filled with air. Therefore your blood is unable to pick the necessary amount of oxygen that the rest of the body needs.

Without enough oxygen, organs such as the kidneys and the brain will not function as they should and will eventually shut down.

ARDS can get serious very fast and even cause death, but it is treatable, especially when it is detected and treated early. Many patients recover.

Types of Respiratory Distress

Respiratory distress cuts across all ages, from infants to older adults. Therefore, there are two types of respiratory distress:

  • Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) affects babies who were born prematurely because their lungs do not make enough surfactant. Surfactant is a foamy substance that enables the lungs to be fully expanded to help the baby breath in the air after birth.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome which is also known as adult respiratory distress syndrome

What Are the Causes?

Most of the time, ARDS is triggered by an underlying health problem. Some of the causes of respiratory distress include:

  • Sepsis – this occurs when you get an infection in your bloodstream, and then your immune system trying to neutralize the infection causes inflammations, bleeding, and small blood clots.
  • Inhaling harmful substances such as chemical fumes and blood clots
  • Accidents – Caused by trauma to the lungs or the part of the brain that is responsible for breathing
  • Pneumonia
  • Drug overdose
  • Burns
  • Near drowning
  • Inflamed pancreas
  • Aspiration (breathing food into your lungs)

Risk Factors

It is still not clear why some people get ARDS, and others do not get it. However, some of the risk factors include:

  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Obesity
  • Chemotherapy or high-risk surgery
  • Smoking tobacco

What Are the Symptoms?

People who have difficulty breathing will exhibit signs that they are trying very hard to breathe, indicating respiratory distress. Here are the respiratory distress signs:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Blue-tinted nails and lips because of lack of oxygen
  • Dizziness
  • Exhaustion and confusion
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Chest pain when breathing deeply.
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Fast breathing
  • Low blood pressure

Diagnosis of ARDS

Our doctor will have to carefully piece the puzzle before getting to know if you have ARDS or not. The other conditions that share symptoms with ARDS have to be ruled out.

Expect a physical exam, which may include:

  • Listening to your heartbeat and breathing
  • Looking at the color of your lips and skin
  • Checking for extra fluid in your body

Other than the physical exam, here are some of the tests that may be carried out:

  • Imaging tests. They will involve CT scans and X-rays to check the state of your lungs.
  • Heart tests. They will help to rule out heart problems that can hinder the heart from pumping blood the way it should
  • Blood tests. They check your oxygen levels in the blood and also for signs of infection and anemia.

ARDS Treatment

Acute respiratory distress syndrome treatment targets to raise your oxygen levels to where they are supposed to be to ensure optimal organ function. There are scenarios where our doctor will give you a ventilator or an air mask to aid you to breathe.

Also, if you have an underlying disease as the cause of ARDS, our doctor will treat that while dealing with ARDS.

Other treatments will include:

  • Medication to prevent blood clots and bleeding
  • Nutrition
  • Medication to keep you comfortable and calm

You might need to be on a ventilator for some time. You might need physical therapy since ARDS can leave you weak. You can contact us today at Express ER in Waco if you have questions or you want to schedule an appointment.

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