Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

What are the Symptoms of ARDS?

Signs and symptoms of ARDS may include:

  • Feeling like you can't get enough air into your lungs
  • Rapid breathing
  • Low oxygen levels in the blood
  • Cough and fever (if your ARDS is caused by pneumonia)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Extreme tiredness

How is ARDS Diagnosed?

Your doctor makes a diagnosis of ARDS based on your medical history, a physical exam and medical tests. Your doctor will listen for abnormal breathing sounds, listen to your heart and look for signs that your body has too much fluid, which could mean your heart or kidneys are not working properly.

Medical tests for ARDS include:

  • An arterial blood gas test, which checks the oxygen level in your blood
  • Chest x-ray, which can show extra fluid in your lungs
  • Other blood tests that can find an infection that may be causing ARDS
  • CT scan, which can show problems in the lungs
  • Heart tests to look for signs of heart failure. This can cause fluid buildup in the lungs.

ARDS is usually diagnosed in a patient who is in the hospital from a critical illness such as shock, sepsis or other trauma.

How is ARDS Treated?

There is no specific treatment for ARDS. A person with ARDS is treated in the intensive care unit at the hospital. Often a person with ARDS will need a machine's help to breathe (called mechanical ventilation) and oxygen therapy.

Treatments may include:

  • Oxygen through tubes in your nose or through a mask
  • Oxygen through a breathing tube. The tube is flexible and goes through your mouth or nose into your windpipe. The tube is connected to a ventilator, a machine that helps you breathe.
  • Fluids through an IV line to improve your blood flow and to provide nutrition
  • Medicine to prevent and treat infections and to relieve pain

>> Learn more about living with ARDS.