Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Sa’ad Lahri Registrar

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Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

  • Sa’ad Lahri

  • Registrar

  • Department of Emergency Medicine

  • UCT/ University of Stellenbosch


  • Characterized by acute lung injury noncardiogenic pulmonary edema, and severe hypoxia.

  • A common condition with a complex pathophysiology, it frequently occurs in critically ill patients.


  • American-European Consensus Conference statement in 1994

  • ARDS as a syndrome of inflammation and increased permeability associated with a constellation of clinical, radiologic, and physiologic abnormalities unexplained by elevations in left atrial or pulmonary capillary pressure.

Diagnostic criteria

  • Acute onset

  • Bilateral pulmonary infiltrates on CXR

  • PaO2/FiO<200mmHG(27kPa)

  • For less severe acute lung injury <300mmHg

  • No evidence of left ventricular failure

Histopathologic Changes

  • Diffuse alveolar damage is the descriptive term for the histopathologic findings encountered in acute lung injury.


  • In response to direct lung injury or a systemic insult such as endotoxin, an increase in pulmonary or circulatory pro- inflammatory cytokines occurs.

  • Activated neutrophils secrete cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukins, which increase the inflammatory response.

  • Neutrophils also produce oxygen radicals and proteases that can injure the capillary endothelium and alveolar epithelium.

  • Epithelial and endothelial damage, in turn, leads to increased permeability and the subsequent influx of protein-rich fluid into the alveolar space. In addition to these structural changes, there is evidence of impaired fibrinolysis in ARDS that leads to capillary thrombosis and microinfarction.

Pathogenesis cont…

  • Some patients achieve complete resolution of lung injury before progressing into the fibroproliferative stage, whereas others progress directly to develop fibrosis.

  • The extent of fibrosis may be determined by the severity of the initial injury, ongoing orrepetitious lung injury, toxic oxygen effects, and ventilator-associated lung injury.

Clinical findings

  • Progression of clinical findings

  • Tachypnea, tachycardia, and respiratory alkalosis usually develop within the first 12 to 24 hours.

  • The inflammatory process and alveolar flooding lead to severe ventilation-perfusion mismatch.

  • Generally, a marked reduction in lung compliance

  • Most patients with ARDS develop diffuse alveolar infiltrates and progress to respiratory failure within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.


  • During the exudative phase, chest radiographs reveal a progression from diffuse interstitial infiltrates to diffuse, fluffy, alveolar opacities .

  • Although ARDS cannot reliably be distinguished from cardiogenic pulmonary edema on radiologic grounds, patients with ARDS often lack cardiomegaly, pleural effusions, and vascular redistribution.

  • Reticular opacities may ensue, suggesting the development of interstitial fibrosis.


  • An expeditious search for the underlying cause of ARDS and aggressive early treatment are key components in mortality reduction.

  • Fluid management is controversial.

  • Most patients die from multiple organ failure, and some investigators and clinicians have expressed concern that reducing intravascular volume may impair oxygen delivery to the tissues and increase the risk of developing multiple organ failure.

  • Main thing is to avoid fluid overload!!!

  • Minimize complications such as nosocomial infection, gastrointestinal bleeding, and thromboembolism.

  • Stress ulcer prophylaxis is indicated in all patients with ARDS.

  • All patients with ARDS require nutritional support

  • Administration of surfactant in neonates with infant respiratory distress syndrome has led to improved survival rates. In adults, however, use of surfactant did not improve oxygenation, lessen the duration of mechanical ventilation, or decrease mortality.


  • Use of steroids is controversial but should be considered in late fibrotic phase.

Mechanical ventilation

  • A strategy aimed at delivering lower tidal volumes and limiting plateau pressure resulted in a 22 percent reduction in Mortality.

Prone positioning

  • Placing patients in the prone position can lead to improvements in oxygenation, possibly by reducing edema atelectasis in the posterior dependent lung , thereby improving ventilation-perfusion mismatch.

  • Failed to show decrease in mortality


  • Therapy is extremely demanding.

  • Many patients who survive ARDS have permanent, mild to moderate impairment of lung function.

  • Quality of life after hospitalization with ARDS may be poorer than that in similar patients without ARDS.


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