Munson Health
Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Back to Document

by Lyons S

(ARDS; Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome; Non-cardiogenic Pulmonary Edema)



ARDS can be caused by many types of injuries, including:
ARDS may occur within few days of a lung or bone marrow transplantation.


Doctors may suspect ARDS when:
  • A person suffering from severe infection or injury develops acute, severe breathing problems
  • A chest x-ray shows fluid in the air sacs of both lungs
  • Blood tests show a dangerously low level of oxygen in the blood
  • Other conditions that could cause breathing problems have been ruled out
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. People who develop ARDS may be too sick to complain of symptoms. If a patient shows signs of developing ARDS, tests may include the following:
  • Blood pressure check
  • Blood tests—to look for oxygen levels, evidence of infection (complete blood count, viral and bacterial cultures) and markers of heart failure
  • Chest x-ray
  • Swabs from nose and throat for identifying viruses
  • Occasionally, an echocardiogram, to rule out congestive heart failure
  • Pulmonary artery catheterization to aid in diagnostic work-up
  • Bronchoscopy to analyze airways—A laboratory examination may indicate presence of certain viruses or cancer cells
  • Open lung biopsy is reserved for cases when diagnosis is difficult to establish


American Lung Association

National Library of Medicine



Canadian Lung Association

Health Canada



ARDS. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Disease and Conditions Index website. Available at: . Accessed December 12, 2006.

ARDS Support Center. Understanding ARDS: acute respiratory distress syndrome and its effect on victims and loved ones. ARDS Support Center brochure. October 3, 2001. ARDS Support Center website. Available at: . Accessed December 12, 2006.

Bernard GR. Acute respiratory distress syndrome: a historical perspective. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2005;172:798.

Bernard G, Artigas A, Carlet J, et al. The American-European consensus conference on ARDS: definitions, mechanisms, relevant outcomes, and clinical trial coordination. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1994;149:818.

Bosma KJ, Lewis JF. Emerging therapies for treatment of acute lung injury and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Expert Opin Emgerg Drugs . 2007;12: 461-77.

DynaMed Editorial Team. Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated October 13, 2010. Accessed October 20, 2010.

Jain R, DaiNogare A. Pharmacological therapy for acute respiratory distress syndrome. Mayo Clin Proc . 2006;81:205-12.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. ARDS. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: . Accessed August 4, 2005.

Rubenfeld GD, Caldwell E, Peabody E, et al. Incidence and outcomes of acute lung injury. N Engl J Med. 2005;353:1685.

Udobi KF, Childs E, Touijer K. Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Am Fam Physician . 2003;67(2):315-22.


Revision Information