Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) is a condition that prevents the lungs from getting enough oxygen due to the build-up of fluid in the lung’s air sacs called the alveoli. Some of the most common causes of ARDS include aspiration, pneumonia, septic shock, the inhalation of chemicals, as well as traumatic injury. Those who smoke or drink alcohol are also at a higher risk of developing ARDS. When the lungs become built up with fluid, their ability to expand then decreases. Consequently, you will then exhibit symptoms such as rapid breathing, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, as well as low blood pressure and even organ failure – such as kidney or liver failure.
In order to accurately diagnose ARDS or other problems with the lungs, a physician will listen to a patient’s chest with a device known as a stethoscope. The stethoscope allows for the physician to hear any abnormalities in a patient’s lungs. If it’s suspected that the patient has Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome and their blood pressure is low, they may have a pale appearance as well as a blue-ish tinge to the skin and nails. This is caused by lack of oxygen. Other tests that are performed to diagnose ARDS include complete blood counts, urine cultures, sputum cultures, chest x-rays and bronchoscopies.
As many as 10,000 Canadians die each year as a result of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. As this can be a life threatening condition, ARDS usually requires hospitalization for treatment – often in an intensive care unit (ICU). While in the intensive care unit, the patient will be sedated and they will be placed on a ventilator. The main goal of the ventilator is to not only provide the patient with large doses of oxygen, but to also help the lungs recover. Diuretics, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory drugs are also often prescribed to patients with ARDS.
Though it can take several months to years, patients with ARDS can recover quickly. Some patients, however, may have long-term respiratory problems, including difficulty breathing, fatigue, weakness, and even depression. In order to properly manage your lung health, it is important to go to your physician for regular check-ups and immediately report any abnormal symptoms that you’re experiencing.
For further advice on how you can protect your lungs and for other lung-related support services, visit the BC Lung Association’s website at www.lung.ca.