Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome: Definition, 8 Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Respiratory distress definition

ARDS or acute respiratory distress syndrome is a severe respiratory disorder caused by fluid buildup in the alveoli or small air sacs in the lungs. The main symptoms are severe shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing.

ARDS is often caused by critical illnesses, such as sepsis or severe pneumonia. One of the causes of pneumonia that is currently a pandemic is coronavirus (COVID-19). According to a number of studies, some COVID-19 patients may experience ARDS in the course of their illness.

ARDS is an emergency that threatens the life of the sufferer. So it needs to get a quick and precise handling.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Symptoms

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, difficulty breathing are an early symptom of ARDS. Symptoms usually appear after 1-2 days of illness or injury.

Symptoms may vary depending on the cause of the condition and how severe the impact can be.

The following are other common symptoms of ARDS:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low oxygen levels in the blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Mental confusion
  • Discoloration of the skin or nails due to reduced oxygen levels in the blood.

When it gets worse, ARDS can cause some complications such as blood blockage, infection, lung damage to organ failure.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Causes

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Causes
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome: Definition, 8 Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, And Prevention 2

ARDS occurs when the lungs become very inflamed due to infection or injury. The inflammation causes fluid from nearby blood vessels to leak into a small air sac in the lungs, and disrupts breathing. The lungs can be inflamed because:

  • Pneumonia or severe flu
  • Blood poisoning
  • Severe chest injuries
  • Inhaling smoke, or toxic chemicals by accident
  • Almost drowned
  • Acute pancreatitis (a serious condition in the form of inflammation of the pancreas for a short period of time)
  • Adverse reactions to blood transfusions.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Diagnosis

There are no specific tests for diagnosing ARDS. A thorough examination is needed to identify the basic causes and other factors that influence them. The checks include:

Physical examination

Physical examinations that should be performed on ARDS patients are:

  • Vital signs and oxygen saturation
  • Head: can be found breath of the nostrils
  • Neck: increased JVP may indicate heart abnormalities
  • Thoracic: retraction, use of breath-aiding muscles
  • Cardio: if there is S3 or S4 gallop and murmur,
  • Pulmonary: in ARDS can be found bilateral wet rhonchi, decrease in tactile vocal fremitus, and decreased breath sound
  • Abdomen: hepatomegaly found when cardiogenic pulmonary edema is present
  • Extremities: cyanosis, edema can be found in heart abnormalities.

Other Diagnosis

  • Blood tests to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood and infection
  • Pulse oximetry tests to measure the amount of oxygen absorbed by the blood
  • Chest X-ray and Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan to find evidence of ARDS
  • Echocardiogram to see nearby heart and blood vessels.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Treatment

The main target of ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) treatment is to return the body’s oxygen levels to normal levels. For that can be done by various methods, such as:

Giving oxygen masks

In ARDS with less severe symptoms, oxygen administration is sufficient with a mask covering the nose and mouth.

Mechanical ventilator

Mechanical ventilators are required on heavy ARDS. This machine works as a breathing apparatus to meet the body’s oxygen needs.

Infusion Fluid

In addition to oxygen, the administration of sufficient fluids in patients is also no less important. This can be done through infusion fluids. Fluid adequacy is the main thing to ensure the smooth circulation of blood and oxygen to all organs in the body.


Medications are given to treat the infection, reduce pain, prevent blood clotting in the legs and lungs, and to provide sedation to ARDS sufferers.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Prevention

There has been no specific prevention for ARDS, but by knowing the symptoms and signs, early treatment can be done to prevent complications.

When to see a doctor?

If there are any of the above symptoms, please take them to the emergency department immediately. To do the examination, you can directly make an appointment with the doctor of choice at the hospital according to your domicile.

Last Updated on November 24, 2020 Reviewed by Market Health Beauty Team