It is serious, sometimes life-threatening, and can get worse quickly. But it’s generally treatable and most people can recover from it. Fast diagnosis and treatment are important -- your organs need enough oxygen to work right and keep you going.
What Happens When You Have ARDS?
Because of this, the blood traveling to your lungs can’t pick up the amount of oxygen it needs to carry to the rest of your body. That can lead to organs such as your kidneys or brain not working as they should or shutting down. Doctors aren’t sure why some people get ARDS and others don’t.
What Causes ARDS?
Doctors are still trying to learn more about this condition and why it happens. It’s not always clear what triggers a case.
Most people who get ARDS are already in the hospital for something else. That’s because it’s usually caused by an injury or another illness. Some of the causes of ARDS may include:
Breathing in harmful substances: Dense smoke or chemical fumes can trigger ARDS.
Some of the other possible causes of ARDS include:
ARDS makes it hard to breathe and puts great strain on the lungs. So symptoms include shortness of breath, often severe. Other signs of ARDS include:
- Low blood pressure
- Unusually fast breathing
- Confusion and exhaustion
- Blue-tinted lips or nails from lack of oxygen in the blood
- Lots of sweating
While many people are already in a hospital when they get ARDS, you should get medical treatment at once if you have these symptoms or see them in a loved one.
Diagnosis and Tests
No one test can identify a case of ARDS. It’s more of a puzzle that a doctor has to piece together. Other conditions can have similar symptoms.
To make a diagnosis, you doctor will probably begin by asking about your medical history. She’ll then likely do a physical exam and listen to your breathing and your heartbeat. She may also look for:
- Signs of extra fluid in your body
- Bluish color on your lips or skin
There are various tests your doctor might order to help her reach a diagnosis. Some of them include:
Scans: A chest X-ray is crucial and probably the first test your doctor will order. You might also get a computerized tomography (CT) scan. These can give your doctor an idea of how much fluid is in your lungs and where it is located.
Blood tests: These can be used to check your oxygen level. They can also look for signs of infection or anemia.
Treatment aims to get oxygen levels in your blood back up to where they should be, so your organs get what they need. Doctors might start with an air mask and later go to a breathing tube and ventilator (a machine that helps you breathe), depending on exactly what you need.
Other treatments might include:
- Nutrition and medicine through IV fluids
- Medicine to prevent bleeding and blood clots
- Medicine to keep you calm and comfortable
People with ARDS are treated in the intensive care unit at a hospital. People who respond to treatment usually have a full recovery with no long-term harm.
Most people with ARDS can recover. If you’ve recently had it, you can improve your recovery by:
- Quitting smoking
- Not drinking alcohol
- Getting a flu shot every year and a pneumonia vaccine every five years
Some might need to be on a ventilator for a while, but most won’t. You might be weak after ARDS and need physical therapy.