Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a very serious life threatening condition. Basically, it is nothing less than a failure of the respiratory system. An individual with ARDS may begin to breathe rapidly as blood oxygen levels decline.
ARDS can result from an extended or serious illness such as pneumonia or patients who have suffered major injuries. ARDS must be addressed quickly or the patient can die from lack of sufficient oxygen.
What causes the ARDS, specifically, is that the function of the air sacs in the lungs is damaged. While the air sacs generally pass oxygen to the blood vessels and from there into the bloodstream, in ARDS, the blood vessels leak too much fluid into the air sacs.
The air sacs are then unable to fill fully with air and get enough oxygen to the organs of the body. Body organs may actually shut down in this condition. Up to 30% of those who contract ARDS will die.
It is a serious condition, but most of the time, it occurs in someone who is already in the hospital. 190,000 people in the U.S. contract ARDS each year, with the majority of those contracting it in the hospital. This is because the ARDS generally comes after another serious illness or from things like narcotics, sedatives, trauma, or even multiple blood transfusions.