What is Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome - ARDS? Print E-mail
Written by Glenn Rosenberg   
Sunday, 04 October 2009
Adult respiratory distress syndrome, which is also called ARDS, is a breakdown in the function of the lungs that comes on suddenly.

With this condition, there is severe inflammation in the lungs. This inflammation reduces the lungs' ability to take up oxygen. It may cause lung or respiratory failure. Although called "adult," ARDS can also occur in children.
What is going on in the body?

ARDS is usually brought on by some other serious condition in the body, such as trauma or infection, that directly or indirectly injures the lung. When a person has ARDS, the lungs and tiny blood vessels around the lungs become inflamed and swollen. This inflammation interferes with the lungs' ability to function properly. The lungs have a hard time getting oxygen into the bloodstream and removing carbon dioxide from the blood. As inflammation increases, fluid can leak from the blood vessels into the lungs. As fluid builds up and inflammation increases, the lungs become stiff and may completely fail to work. .
What are the causes and risks of the disease?

More than 30 percent of people who have sepsis, which is a life-threatening infection of the bloodstream, will develop ARDS. Some of the other causes of ARDS are:
- blood transfusions of large amounts of blood
- burns
- drug overdose
- infection of the lungs, such as bacterial or viral pneumonia
- inhaling large amounts of smoke
- inhaling toxic fumes, such as those from chlorine or ammonia
- inhaling the contents of the stomach, known as aspiration pneumonia
- near drowning
- serious inflammation in other parts of the body, such as acute pancreatitis
- prolonged or severe shock
- surgery, such as cardiopulmonary bypass
- severe trauma to other parts of the body
- severe trauma to the lungs, such as from a crush injury to the chest

What are the treatments for the disease?

People with ARDS must be treated in a hospital, often in the intensive care unit. Keeping the person's oxygen intake within healthy limits is key, as well as treating the underlying cause of the lung injury. It is also crucial to maintain the person's fluid balance. Either too much or too little fluid can be harmful and will affect the outcome of ARDS. Treatment may also include:
- antibiotics to treat infections or sepsis
- surgery, if an injury caused the ARDS
- use of a ventilator, which is an artificial breathing machine

Research is also promising for several other treatments, including replacement surfactant and anti-inflammatory agents, but more study is needed.
What are the side effects of the treatments?

Side effects depend on the treatments used. For example, antibiotics can cause stomach upset, allergic reaction, and other effects. Surgery poses a risk of infection, bleeding, or allergic reaction to anesthesia.
What happens after treatment for the disease?

In many cases, no further measures are needed after treatment of ARDS, and the person is able to return to his or her usual activities. Often, however, a person will have to battle ongoing lung problems. He or she may need physical therapy and pulmonary therapy to strengthen the body and the lungs.
How is the disease monitored?

Arterial blood gases and chest X-rays will be done repeatedly until the person improves. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.
 

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