Respiratory distress syndrome, acute


Respiratory distress syndrome, acute
Respiratory distress syndrome, acute

Acute respitory disress syndrome (ARDS) is a life-threatening illness that can happen when your lungs are not working properly. ARDS is usually a complication of other serious conditions and is treated in hospital

Who is at risk of getting acute respitory distress syndrome (ARDS)

Acute respitory distress syndrome ( ARDS) usually affects people who are already unwell 

Causes of ARDS can include:

  • sepsis
  • infections such as pneumonia
  • acute pancreatitis
  • accidentally inhaling vomit or food
  • drowning
  • smoke inhalation
  • severe injuries
  • having blood transfusions
  • having a lung transplant

Symptoms of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)

Symptoms of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) include:

  • shortness of breath
  • taking short, fast breaths

Call 999 or go to A&E immediately if you or someone esle:

  • have severe difficulty breathing, for example, not being able to get words out, choking, or gasping
  • have sudden shortness of breath and pain in your arms, back, neck or jaw
  • have sudden shortness of breath and your chest feels tight or heavy
  • have sudden shortness of breath and you're feeling sick or being sick
  • have sudden shortness of breath and you're coughing up blood
  • shortness of breath and you have pain or swelling in 1 of your legs

Find your nearest A&E

Treatment for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is treated usually in an Intensive care unit (ICU)

Diagnosing ARDS

There's no specific test to diagnose ARDS. A full assessment is needed to identify the underlying cause and rule out other conditions.

This assessment is likely to include:

  • a physical examination
  • blood tests – to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood and check for an infection
  • a pulse oximetry test – where a sensor attached to the fingertip, ear or toe is used to measure how much oxygen the blood is absorbing
  • a chest X-ray and a CT scan – to look for evidence of ARDS
  • an echocardiogram – a type of ultrasound scan that's used to look at the heart and nearly blood vessels

Treating ARDS

If you develop ARDS, you'll probably be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) 

Treatment may include:

  • oxygen, which you breathe in using a mask
  • ventilation, where a machine is used to breathe for you
  • medicines, such as antibiotics to treat infection
  • fluids given through a vein

Complications of ARDS

ARDS can have long-term effects, such as:

  • shortness of breath
  • muscle weakness
  • pain

The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website
Last Updated: 03/08/2023 14:07:16