MSD Manual

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Quick Facts

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Sep 2018| Content last modified Sep 2018
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What's acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)?

Acute means sudden, and respiratory has to do with breathing. So acute respiratory distress syndrome is when you have sudden difficulty with your breathing.

  • ARDS is a certain kind of severe breathing problem when your lungs fill up with fluid

  • ARDS causes low oxygen levels in your blood

  • Many diseases that injure your lungs can cause ARDS

  • You feel short of breath and your lips and/or skin turn blue

  • Without treatment, ARDS is often fatal

  • You will need extra oxygen and sometimes a ventilator (breathing machine)

What causes ARDS?

Some of the diseases that cause ARDS can also damage other organs besides your lungs. You may have problems with your kidneys, heart, liver, or brain.

How do doctors know I have ARDS?

Doctors base the diagnosis on:

  • Blood tests to measure the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood

  • Chest x-ray

They may do other tests to look for the cause of ARDS or see what other organs are affected.

How do doctors treat ARDS?

You'll need to be in an intensive care unit (ICU). An ICU is an area in the hospital for people who are seriously ill. Doctors will treat the problem that caused ARDS and:

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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