What is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome?
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What is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

Acute respiratory distress syndrome is a condition that can occur due to a number of different factors. ARDS is usually caused by a severe traumatic injury to the lungs, making it impossible for the lungs to properly obtain and process air. ARDS can occur anywhere from 12-48 hours after the incident, making it difficult to detect in less severe cases.

Lung health is a hot topic lately, what with environmental toxins coming under the microscope. What is acute respiratory distress syndrome? Here are the things you should know:

Description of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

Contrary to what you may have heard, acute respiratory distress syndrome is not a disease. It is actually a syndrome (or, a collection of symptoms) that may be caused by a wide variety of outside circumstances. Even more confusing is the fact that ARDS goes by a number of different names, including respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), stiff lung, adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), shock lung, increased-permeability pulmonary edema, acute lung injury, and noncardiogenic pulmonary edema. When the lungs' capillaries and air sacs become damaged, they either fill with fluid or collapse, leading to the body's inability to draw enough oxygen from the air. The resulting lack of oxygen in the blood is a serious and life-threatening condition. People who develop acute respiratory distress syndrome are in severe danger and must be treated as soon as possible.

Causes of ARDS

Just as there are many names for acute respiratory distress syndrome, there are also a wide array of causes - some direct and some indirect. Generally speaking, ARDS is the result of a severe injury to the lung. This injury may be due to the inhalation of noxious chemicals (pesticides, petroleum fumes, cigarette smoke, etc.), the aspiration of stomach liquids, drug overdose, physical trauma, blood transfusions, bone fractures, pneumonia, near drowning, pancreatitis, or septis (microorganisms in the bloodstream).

Symptoms of ARDS

Symptoms generally present themselves between 12 and 48 hours after the causal incident occurs. They include severe difficulty with breathing, fever, shortness of breath, restlessness, anxiety, and agitation. ARDS is referred to as an "acute" syndrome because the symptoms often occur all at once, and progress rapidly.

Treatments for ARDS

Prevention is the first step in treatment of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome. Patients in high-risk groups are closely monitored for the development of ARDS symptoms. Patients who do develop acute respiratory distress syndrome are treated in the Intensive Care Unit, on a mechanical ventilator. However, mechanical ventilation with the aid of tracheal intubation is believed to actually worsen the symptoms and aid the progression of ARDS. Therefore, doctors try to use alternative ventilation practices if possible. Treatment generally also involves antibiotics, keeping the patient in the prone position (to counter the negative effects of gravity on ARDS symptoms), and even mobilizing the patient (if that is a possibility).

Acute respiratory distress syndrome is a very serious condition that must be treated as early on as possible. If you think you or someone you know is coming down with ARDS, then you need to get to the emergency room immediately.

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