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Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a severe form of injury to the lungs usually occurring in hospitalized patients with severe infection (sepsis syndrome), severe trauma, inhalation injuries, pancreatitis, or other known predisposing factors. Patients with this syndrome develop a leakiness of the capillary bed of the lungs, which allows excessive fluid accumulation within the lung tissue. This marked accumulation of fluid results in low oxygen levels in the blood and frequently severe difficulty breathing.

Patients commonly require mechanical respiratory support by way of an endotracheal tube (a tube placed into the windpipe by way of the mouth). The chest x-ray typically shows an abnormal whiteness of both lungs. Treatment involves general support of the patient in the intensive care unit and therapy against the underlying cause. The prognosis is better if the patient has single organ system involvement (such as the lung) and worse if there is multiple system organ involvement, late complications, infections or underlying sepsis syndrome. Unfortunately no specific treatment for ARDS is available. The prognosis of ARDS has improved in the past 15 years, probably related to better supportive care.

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