Symptoms and Treatment of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, is a life-threatening condition that must be recognized and treated immediately in order to save the patient’s life. Therefore, it is important to be able to recognize and respond to the symptoms of ARDS.

Individuals experiencing ARDS may have a cough and a fever (but the fever only generally comes if the ARDS is caused by something like pneumonia). Low blood pressure is common as the heart grows weak. Confusion and exhaustion are further signs of the lack of oxygen inherent with ARDS.

The patient may describe a sensation that he or she cannot get enough air into the lungs. Breathing may become rapid as the individual tries to compensate for the inefficiency of his or her breathing. Finally, medical professionals may identify low oxygen levels in the blood by using a finger monitor.

Physicians may also do an arterial blood gas test, which can determine the levels of oxygen in the blood more accurately than the finger monitor. A CT scan or chest x-ray could show if there is extra fluid or other problems in the lungs. Physicians will also want to check for signs of heart failure, as heart failure is a common cause for ARDS, leading to fluid buildup in the lungs.

Treatment for ARDS is not always the same. A lot depends on the cause of the ARDS. Oxygen may be administered through a mask, nose tubes, or in some cases a breathing tube down the throat. A ventilator may be used to help facilitate breathing. Fluids to improve blood flow may be administered through an IV and any accompanying infection would be treated with antibiotics.

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