Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)/Lung Failure

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) occurs when the millions of tiny air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli, fill with excess fluid. This can be the result of any kind of injury to or illness in the lung.

Pneumonia, trauma, sepsis, and inhalation of stomach contents or smoke can all cause the body to initiate an inflammatory response, sending excess fluid to the lungs.

In healthy lungs, the alveoli fill with inhaled air, transferring oxygen into the blood carried by small neighboring vessels. The oxygen-rich blood can then travel throughout the body to deliver its cargo to the kidneys, brain, liver, and other organs. But when fluid accumulates in the alveoli, they can no longer fill with air, and oxygen cannot pass as easily into the blood. Soon after the initial injury or illness, blood oxygen levels decline, and breathing becomes fast and difficult as the body tries to compensate. There may also be signs, such as confusion or low blood pressure, that the vital organs aren't getting enough oxygen. In some patients, the lung may try to heal itself, creating scar tissue that decreases the lung's elasticity and makes it still harder to breathe.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia has established a state-of-the-art program dedicated to ARDS: the Center for Acute Respiratory Failure.

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