Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Acute respiratory distress syndrome, also known as ARDS, is a serious disease that affects the respiratory system. Its incidence is relatively high, so it can be classified as a common disease affecting both men and women equally. It is important to treat it on time to avoid major damages to the lungs.

In this pathology, the permeable walls of the alveoli are modified as well as their functions. When we inhale the air passes through the nostrils, the larynx, the pharynx and then the trachea into the bronchi.

These bronchi bifurcate into smaller branches, one goes to the right lung and the other to the left lung. The bronchi then branch out into smaller bronchioles, known as a bronchial tree, which contain a large number of alveoli or air sacs. It is precisely in these alveoli that the gas exchange takes place during respiration. When we inhale, the alveoli are filled with oxygen which passes to the circulatory system for delivery to all the organs in the body. Blood vessels with venous blood (veins) contain carbon dioxide that need to be expelled (exhalation part of respiration).

When interstitial fluid makes its way into the alveoli and lungs by the increased permeability of the alveoli, the lungs may develop generalized inflammation.

Among the most frequent signs that allow us to identify ARDS are:

  • Presence of non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema: there is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the lungs that affect the normal functioning of the alveoli.

  • Difficulty breathing or severe pulmonary insufficiency: ARDS also causes a feeling of suffocation or shortness of breath in the patient, known as dyspnea

  • Presence of cyanosis (bluish tone of the skin and mucous membranes)

  • Pain in the affected area that can be irradiated to other parts such as the back or abdomen.

  • Arterial hypotension.

  • Rapid (tachypnea) and superficial breathing.

  • Shortness of breath

  • Coughing with expulsion of pink or white sputum

  • Fever

  • Fatigue and weakness

We can also differentiate two types of causes that can trigger acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Direct or Pulmonary

We include pneumonia, pulmonary contusion, inhalation of chemicals or aspiration of vomit. It can also be caused by the inhalation of water.

Indirect or Extrapulmonary

For example, pancreatitis, drug intoxication, sepsis and lung transplantation.

The medical team can use different tests to diagnose this disease and differentiate it from other ailments. Among the most common procedures that your doctor or specialist may recommend are:

  • Chest x-ray: you can see an alteration with fluid accumulation

  • Auscultation: abnormal sounds are heard when placing the stethoscope on the affected area.

  • Bronchoscopy: a cable with a camera at one end is inserted into the airways and examines the path

  • Blood test to check for pathogens.

  • Sputum examination.

  • Urine culture (determines the presence of bacteria in the urine)

We can also find several treatments depending on the patient, the main ones recommended are:

  • Respiratory support: the patient is connected to a mechanical respirator with oxygen therapy. Also, the doctor or specialist can prescribe soothing medications (antibiotics, diuretics, anticoagulants, etc.) so that the patient is relaxed and pain-free.

  • Pulmonary puncture and extraction of accumulated fluid: this test is known as thoracentesis.

Although there are many risk factors, it is worth mentioning smoking or alcoholism, two habits that are performed worldwide by millions, if not billions of people. Therefore, avoiding smoking, drinking responsibly and practicing a healthy lifestyle (proper diet and regular physical exercise) will serve as natural prevention against many diseases, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome.

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