Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) prevents sufficient amounts of oxygen from moving through the lungs and into the bloodstream, which creates a critical lack of oxygen in the body's organs. A potentially life-threatening condition, ARDS is the result of a buildup of fluids in the lung's alveoli, or tiny air sacs. This excess fluid is what prevents oxygen from reaching the bloodstream. The fluid buildup also may weigh down or stiffen the lungs, preventing them from expanding properly. The inability of the lungs to expand fully, combined with the lack of oxygen flow, makes it extremely difficult to breathe, even when assisted by a breathing machine or oxygen tank.

The failure of the kidneys, liver, or other organs often occurs in conjunction with ARDS. The condition may be caused by severe trauma or injury to the lungs; conditions such as pneumonia, septic shock, aspiration (when vomit is breathed into the lungs); or complications from a lung transplant. Acute alcoholism and a history of heavy smoking are additional risk factors. A similar condition, neonatal respiratory distress syndrome, occurs in infants whose lungs have not fully developed. In such cases there is a lack of surfactant, the substance that keeps the lungs air sacs from deflating. The condition in infants also can be life-threatening, but unlike with ARDS, treatments are available that improve the long-term outlook.


UAB Pulmonary Services is ranked among the best programs of its kind in the nation, and our physicians are consistently listed among the Best Doctors in America for respiratory disease. We serve patients at our main campus and also at our convenient neighborhood clinics in Hoover and Gardendale.

Most UAB Pulmonary Services doctors are triple-board-certified in internal medicine, critical care, and pulmonary medicine. They serve on national boards and specialty organizations, speak at national conferences, publish in scientific and medical journals, and conduct research that is recognized nationally and internationally. Our physicians are continually seeking new ways to treat lung disease and improve the care for patients.








UAB is an active participant in research and clinical trials for the diagnosis and treatment of acute respiratory distress syndrome. We encourage you to speak to your physician about research and clinical trial options and browse the link below for more information.

View Clinical Trials