Though it has become part of a vocabulary around COVID-19, the term Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, or ARDS for short, refers to a type of lung damage that can result from a variety of causes, including illness, trauma, or even as a complication that occurs following certain medical procedures. ARDS is a dangerous, potentially fatal respiratory condition in which the lungs sustain a serious, widespread injury that diminishes their ability to provide the body’s organs with enough oxygen. The condition causes fluid to accumulate in the lungs, which in turn reduces blood oxygen to dangerously low levels. ARDS is a medical emergency.
ARDS is always caused by an injury to the lungs, whether from illness or injury, but it can affect people of any age. In fact, in the United States, about 190,000 Americans are diagnosed with ARDS each year. All ARDS patients must be given supplemental oxygen therapy and most will be placed on a mechanical ventilator to help them breathe. Though there is no cure for ARDS, it’s not uniformly fatal. With treatment, an estimated 60% to 75% of those who have ARDS will survive the disease.
“We know how to support people through ARDS very well,” says Lauren Ferrante, MD, MHS, a Yale Medicine pulmonary and critical care specialist. “But it’s still a serious problem. Even though we can support the body to give it time to recover, the lungs still have to start the recovery process themselves. There is no magic bullet treatment for ARDS.”