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What is acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)?

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a serious condition in which fluid builds in the lungs, reducing the amount of oxygen in the lungs and in the bloodstream to dangerously low levels. Common causes of ARDS include breathing vomit into the lungs (aspiration), injury to the lungs, pneumonia, septic shock, or inhaling chemicals. ARDS can also result from overdosing on drugs including cocaine, opioid medications or antidepressants.

Symptoms of ARDS may include:
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • low blood pressure
  • rapid breathing
  • organ failure
  • dizziness
  • rapid heart rate
  • excessive sweating
Many people who develop ARDS are already in the hospital for other reasons. ARDS is a life-threatening condition that usually requires a stay in an intensive care unit where a medical team can treat the underlying cause of ARDS and use therapies to aid with breathing.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.