There's no specific test to identify ARDS. The diagnosis is based on the physical exam, chest X-ray and oxygen levels. It's also important to rule out other diseases and conditions — for example, certain heart problems — that can produce similar symptoms.
- Chest X-ray. A chest X-ray can reveal which parts of your lungs and how much of the lungs have fluid in them and whether your heart is enlarged.
- Computerized tomography (CT). A CT scan combines X-ray images taken from many different directions into cross-sectional views of internal organs. CT scans can provide detailed information about the structures within the heart and lungs.
A test using blood from an artery in your wrist can measure your oxygen level. Other types of blood tests can check for signs of infection or anemia. If your doctor suspects that you have a lung infection, secretions from your airway may be tested to determine the cause of the infection.
Because the signs and symptoms of ARDS are similar to those of certain heart problems, your doctor may recommend heart tests such as:
- Electrocardiogram. This painless test tracks the electrical activity in your heart. It involves attaching several wired sensors to your body.
- Echocardiogram. A sonogram of the heart, this test can reveal problems with the structures and the function of your heart.
The first goal in treating ARDS is to improve the levels of oxygen in your blood. Without oxygen, your organs can't function properly.
To get more oxygen into your bloodstream, your doctor will likely use:
- Supplemental oxygen. For milder symptoms or as a temporary measure, oxygen may be delivered through a mask that fits tightly over your nose and mouth.
- Mechanical ventilation. Most people with ARDS will need the help of a machine to breathe. A mechanical ventilator pushes air into your lungs and forces some of the fluid out of the air sacs.
Carefully managing the amount of intravenous fluids is crucial. Too much fluid can increase fluid buildup in the lungs. Too little fluid can put a strain on your heart and other organs and lead to shock.
People with ARDS usually are given medication to:
- Prevent and treat infections
- Relieve pain and discomfort
- Prevent blood clots in the legs and lungs
- Minimize gastric reflux
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you're recovering from ARDS, the following suggestions can help protect your lungs:
- Quit smoking. If you smoke, seek help to quit, and avoid secondhand smoke whenever possible.
- Get vaccinated. The yearly flu (influenza) shot, as well as the pneumonia vaccine every five years, can reduce your risk of lung infections.
Coping and support
Recovery from ARDS can be a long road, and you'll need plenty of support. Although everyone's recovery is different, being aware of common challenges encountered by others with the disorder can help. Consider these tips:
- Ask for help. Particularly after you're released from the hospital, be sure you have help with everyday tasks until you know what you can manage on your own.
- Attend pulmonary rehabilitation. Many medical centers now offer pulmonary rehabilitation programs, which incorporate exercise training, education and counseling to help you learn how to return to your normal activities and achieve your ideal weight.
- Join a support group. There are support groups for people with chronic lung problems. Discover what's available in your community or online and consider joining others with similar experiences.
- Seek professional help. If you have symptoms of depression, such as hopelessness and loss of interest in your usual activities, tell your doctor or contact a mental health professional. Depression is common in people who have had ARDS, and treatment can help.