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What Is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

More research is needed to better understand ARDS, a serious lung problem getting recent attention due to COVID-19.

translucent image of the lungs

Among the many confounding aspects of COVID-19 is its effect on the lungs, including a potentially fatal complication called acute respiratory distress syndrome or ARDS. CSL Behring recently joined with the American Thoracic Society Research Program to create a $50,000 research grant to support clinical research about ARDS with the hope of improving outcomes for patients.

Interested? Applications opened on October 1 and are due December 1.

What do we already know about ARDS? Here are five fast facts:

  1. ARDS is a serious, unpredictable, life-threatening illness in which the lungs are severely inflamed. This can cause the lungs to fill with fluid and prevent them from functioning properly – breathing becomes difficult and oxygen cannot get into the body.
  2. ARDS generally results from lung injury, infection or trauma. New causes of ARDS, like the recent COVID-19 pandemic, are continually being reported. There are more than 60 different causes identified including inhaling harmful substances, pneumonia, pancreatitis, sepsis, trauma to the head, chest or other areas of the body, or near drowning.
  3. While risk factors for ARDS include advanced age, prolonged tobacco use, history of alcoholism, and presence of chronic lung disease, many people who get ARDS are already in the hospital due to an infection or a trauma, according to the American Lung Association.
  4. Like many diseases affecting the lungs, symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, pain when taking a breath, fever and fatigue. According to the American Thoracic Society, ARDS can be very difficult to diagnose because many patients have underlying conditions that have similar symptoms.

Treating ARDS often focuses on treating the original medical issue that led to the lung injury and supporting the breathing until a patients’ lungs heal. Treatment therapies could include a mechanical ventilator, medicines to help relax breathing muscles, antibiotics, vasopressors to increase blood pressure, and diuretics to remove excess fluid.