COPD and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

What is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) refers to the sudden failure of the respiratory system. The result is very rapid, shallow breathing causing the lungs to not receive enough oxygen. A loss of function in the alveoli (air sacs) also occurs, which causes them to excrete a liquid into the lungs. As a result, the alveoli are not able to accept oxygen.  A lack of oxygen in the blood can cause irreparable harm to organs, especially the brain. In about 30 percent of cases, ARDS is fatal. In all, 150,000 Americans are affected by ARDS annually.

Who’s Affected?

The most common causes of ARDS include:

  • Inhaling saltwater
  • Inhaling smoke or fumes
  • Pneumonia
  • Lung Infection
  • Shock
  • Sedatives
  • Narcotics
  • Breathing vomit into the lungs
  • Trauma
  • Sepsis (infection of the blood)


ARDS can be brought on by shortness of breath, chronic coughing, hyperventilation and inflammation of the lungs and airways, all of which are symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). Individuals with end-stage or stage 4 COPD, who are likely to develop a lung infection, are at high risk of ARDS. Developing ARDS in conjunction with COPD can be deadly, the mortality rate drastically spikes in such cases.


When brought to the emergency room of a hospital, nearly all cases of ARDS are admitted directly into the intensive care unit. Typically, ARDS treatment includes oxygen being pumped directly into the lungs through a mask and tube system, including a ventilator to regulate breathing. Also, various fluids are introduced to the bloodstream along with medication to treat infections and manage pain.

When successfully treated, most patient’s lung function returns to normal within several months. However, some patients report residual symptoms up to a year after discharge from the hospital.

If you have a progressive lung disease like COPD, make sure you include healthy breathing habits in your treatment plan to help ward off lung infection.  If you would like to find out more about our available treatment options, please contact one of our patient care coordinators today at 888-745-6697 to schedule a free consultation.