ARDS is extremely serious, but thanks to improved treatments, more people are surviving it. However, many survivors end up with potentially serious — and sometimes lasting — complications, including:

  • Pulmonary fibrosis. Scarring and thickening of the tissue between the air sacs can occur within a few weeks of the onset of ARDS. This stiffens your lungs, making it even more difficult for oxygen to flow from the air sacs into your bloodstream.
  • Collapsed lung (pneumothorax). In most ARDS cases, a breathing machine called a ventilator is used to increase oxygen in the body and force fluid out of the lungs. However, the pressure and air volume of the ventilator can force gas to go through a small hole in the very outside of a lung and cause that lung to collapse.
  • Blood clots. Lying still in the hospital while you're on a ventilator can increase your risk of developing blood clots, particularly in the deep veins in your legs. If a clot forms in your leg, a portion of it can break off and travel to one of your lungs (pulmonary embolism) — where it blocks blood flow.
  • Infections. Because the ventilator is attached directly to a tube inserted in your windpipe, this makes it much easier for germs to infect and further injure your lungs.
  • Abnormal lung function. Many people with ARDS recover most of their lung function within several months to two years, but others may have breathing problems for the rest of their lives. Even people who do well usually have shortness of breath and fatigue and may need supplemental oxygen at home for a few months.
  • Memory, cognitive and emotional problems. Sedatives and low levels of oxygen in the blood can lead to memory loss and cognitive problems after ARDS. In some cases, the effects may lessen over time, but in others, the damage may be permanent. Most ARDS survivors also report going through a period of depression, which is treatable.
May. 07, 2011

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