Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a life-threatening lung condition, which is characterized by problems with oxygen provision of the organism’s vital organ. According to the statistics, in the United States, the number of people facing the problem range from 64.2 to 78.9 cases/100,000 a year (Diamond et al., 2021). Approximately 25% of the cases are classified as mild and the rest are moderate or severe. The mortality rate is relatively high, depending on the stage of the disease: 27%, 32%, and 45% for mild, moderate, and severe forms, respectively (Diamond et al., 2021). The situation became more agile with the appearance of the global threat, known as COVID-19, as ARDS is one of the most frequently faced reasons for the death of people with this diagnosis. However, during the last decades, the statistics of deaths from ARDS have been slowly decreasing due to the development of medicine, which finds new methods for faster detection and treatment of the syndrome.
ARDS occurs in cases of serious injury to the lungs as a result of the complication of an infection or trauma. Typically, people are already in hospital when they are diagnosed with this disease as it is a consequence of other conditions, which can develop and worsen quickly. In the early stages of the syndrome, there is fluid from blood vessels in the lungs, which begins leaking into the alveoli (small air sacs in which the process of oxygen exchange takes place) (Johns Hopkins Medicine, n.d.). It leads to breathing problems and makes the lungs smaller and stiffer and ends in the fall of the amount of oxygen in the blood, which is called hypoxemia (Johns Hopkins Medicine, n.d.). The process results in a strong lack of oxygen in the body and involves damage to the brain and other tissues, which can develop into organ failure.
The exact reasons for the appearance of this condition remain unclear. However, such factors as sepsis, pneumonia, inhaling harmful substances, blood transfusion, pancreatitis, trauma to the head or chest, and near-drowning can have a significant influence (American Lung Association, 2020). Among the risk factors for ARDS are advanced age, female gender, a history of tobacco and alcohol use, chronic lung disease, aortic vascular and cardiovascular surgery, and traumatic brain injury (Diamond et al., 2021). The major symptoms of the condition include shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, sweating, retractions, pain in the lungs, and bluish color of fingernails and lips as the result of the oxygen level decrease in the blood.
To identify the condition, there is a need for a full assessment, which would include a physical examination, blood tests, a pulse oximetry test, a chest X-ray and a CT scan, and an echocardiogram (NHS, 2020). All of these diagnostic procedures are aimed at revealing hidden infections, lung, heart, and blood vessels diseases, and checking the level of oxygen in the blood. Although most people develop ARDS when being in the hospital, there are cases when it can occur quickly as a result of an infection, inhaling bad substances, or vomit. In such a situation, an individual should immediately receive medical help.
When a person develops ARDS, they are typically admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) and require a breathing machine, or ventilator to help lungs to breathe through a special mask. In case of severe damage to the organ, there may be a need for a breathing tube to be inserted down the throat into the lungs. Fluids and necessary nutrients are supplied through a feeding tube (nasogastric tube) through the nose and into the stomach of the patient (NHS, 2020). The disease, which led to the development of ARDS, is treated with necessary medications, such as antibiotics in case of a bacterial infection. According to the statistics, about 1 in 3 people die as a result of ARDS development (NHS, 2020). However, the reason for most deaths lies in the underlying illness and not in ARDS itself. Typically, a person needs to stay in hospital for several weeks or months before their condition improves and they are released home.
After the recovery, it is important to continue the plan of treatment and receive regular follow-up care, which would allow controlling the state of the patient to prevent possible complications. The doctor may recommend such procedures as pulmonary function tests to check the lungs’ function, muscle strength and physical capacity tests to estimate the necessity of additional therapy, and mental health screening to assess the emotional state (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [NIH], 2019). The change of a lifestyle may also be required to stay healthy for a long time after ARDS, for example, the doctor may advise quitting smoking as this habit can worsen the state of the lungs. In general, today, more people survive after this disease than it was in the past. Most of them recover completely, while others may have problems with lungs and other health issues for a lifetime.
In conclusion, ARDS is a serious lung disease, which in many cases may become fatal. The condition is characterized by the lack of oxygen in the body and is typically following another illness or trauma. The condition usually occurs when the person is already in the hospital, which allows providing necessary help in time to save their life. However, in certain cases, this condition may develop spontaneously and requires urgent medical intervention. The disease is treated with the help of a breathing machine and medications, aimed at coping with the main illness. After the procedure, most of the patients have a complete recovery during a few weeks or months and continue to have normal lives after being released home.
American Lung Association. (2020). Learn about ARDS. Web.
Diamond, M., Peniston Feliciano, H. L., Sanghavi, D., & Mahapatra, S. (2021). Acute respiratory distress syndrome. StatPearls Publishing. Web.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Signs of respiratory distress. Web.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2019). Acute respiratory distress syndrome. Web.
NHS. (2020). Acute respiratory distress syndrome. Web.