Tal Klatchko, D.O.

Pulmonary & Critical Care
Roper-St. Francis Hospital
Charleston, South Carolina


ARDS, or acute respiratory distress syndrome, is a lung condition that leads to low oxygen levels in the blood. ARDS can be life threatening. This is because your body’s organs, such as the kidneys and brain, need oxygen-rich blood to work properly.

ARDS usually occurs in people who are very ill with another disease or who have major injuries. Most people are already in the hospital when they develop ARDS.


When you breathe, air passes through your nose and mouth into your windpipe. The air then travels to your lungs’ air sacs. These sacs are called alveoli (al-VEE-uhl-eye).

Small blood vessels called capillaries run through the walls of the alveoli. Oxygen passes from the alveoli into the capillaries and then into the bloodstream. Blood carries the oxygen to all parts of the body, including the body’s organs.

In ARDS, infections, injuries, or other conditions cause the lung’s capillaries to leak more fluid than normal into the alveoli. This prevents the lungs from filling with air and moving enough oxygen into the bloodstream.

When this happens, the body’s organs don’t get the oxygen they need. Without oxygen, the organs may not work properly or may stop working completely.

Most people who develop ARDS are in the hospital for another serious health problem. Rarely, people who aren’t hospitalized have health problems (such as severe pneumonia) that lead to ARDS.

If you have trouble breathing, call your doctor right away. If you have severe shortness of breath, call 9–1–1.


ARDS treatment has improved in recent years. As a result, more people are surviving ARDS. This condition affects about 190,000 people in the United States each year. About 7 out of 10 people who get prompt and proper treatment for ARDS survive it.

Some people who survive recover completely. Others may have lasting damage to their lungs and other health problems.

Researchers are studying new treatments for ARDS.


  • Sepsis. This is a condition in which bacteria infect the bloodstream.
  • Pneumonia. This is an infection in the lungs.
  • Severe bleeding due to an injury to the body.
  • An injury to the chest or head, like a severe blow.
  • Breathing in harmful fumes or smoke.
  • Inhaling vomited stomach contents from the mouth.


Individuals at risk for ARDS have a condition or illness that can directly or indirectly injure their lungs.


The first signs and symptoms of ARDS are feeling like you can’t get enough air into your lungs, rapid breathing, and low oxygen levels in the blood.

Other signs and symptoms depend on the cause of the condition. They may occur before ARDS develops. For example, if pneumonia is causing ARDS, you may have a cough and fever before you feel short of breath.

Amongst others.


Your doctor will diagnose ARDS based on your medical history, a physical exam, and results from tests such as An arterial blood gas test, Chest x ray, Blood tests, Sputum cultures, Computed tomography and Heart tests.


ARDS is treated with oxygen, fluids, and medicines. Treatments are done in a hospital’s intensive care unit.

The main goals of treating ARDS are to get oxygen to your lungs and organs (like the brain and kidneys) and treat the underlying condition that’s causing ARDS.

Additional Terms for ARDS

  • Acute lung injury
  • Adult respiratory distress syndrome
  • Increased-permeability pulmonary edema
  • Noncardiac pulmonary edema
  • stiff lung
  • shock lung
  • wet lung