Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Living With

If you have been diagnosed with ARDS, it is important that you continue your treatment plan. Get regular follow-up care to control your condition and prevent complications.

Research has led to better care for people who have ARDS, but recovery after leaving the hospital can take many weeks or months, particularly for older adults. Also, the longer you were on a ventilator, the longer it may take for you to recover your strength and return to your familiar routines.

Receive routine follow-up care

Your healthcare team can support your recovery or suggest additional resources, including recommending that you:

  • Keep regular appointments so that your doctor can monitor your recovery.
  • Take all medicines regularly as prescribed. Do not change the amount of your medicine or oxygen or skip a dose of medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
  • Work with therapists or other healthcare providers to gain strength and speed your recovery.
  • Between visits, call your doctor if you have any new symptoms or your symptoms worsen.

Monitor your condition

To monitor your condition, your doctor may recommend the following tests or procedures.

  • Lung function tests: These tests will help your doctor check how well your lungs are working. Your doctor may ask you questions about your symptoms, measure your blood oxygen level, or do a spirometry test.
  • Muscle strength and physical capacity tests: Weak muscles are a common result of staying in bed for long-term treatment, especially if the doctor gave you a sedative. One common test of endurance is the 6-minute walk test, which measures how far you can walk in that time. Such tests will help your doctor know how you are recovering and whether you need additional care, such as pulmonary rehabilitation or physical therapy.
  • Mental health screening: Your doctor may also ask questions to assess the state of your emotional health.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation infographic

A Path to Breathing Better Infographic

This infographic introduces what you can expect from pulmonary rehabilitation and how it can benefit you. 

Adopt healthy lifestyle changes

Your doctor may recommend adopting healthy lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking. Smoking can worsen lung problems. Talk to your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke and other lung irritants, such as harmful fumes. Visit Smoking and Your Heart and NHLBI’s Your Guide to a Healthy Heart. For free help quitting smoking, you may call the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848).

Take care of your mental health

Talk about how you feel with your healthcare team. Anxiety, depression, and even PTSD are relatively common among people who have had ARDS. Your healthcare team may recommend that you take steps that include the following:

  • Ask your family and friends for help with everyday activities. Support from family and friends can also help relieve stress and anxiety. Let your loved ones know how you feel and what they can do to help you.
  • Join a patient support group. You can see how other patients manage similar symptoms and their condition. Talk with your doctor about local support groups or check with an area medical center.
  • Talk with a professional counselor. If you are very depressed, your doctor may recommend medicines or other treatments that can improve your quality of life.

How can ARDS affect your health?

If you have ARDS, you can develop other medical problems while in the hospital. Some can be life-threatening. The most common problems are:

  • Atelectasis: This condition happens when small air pockets in the lung collapse.
  • Complications of treatment in a hospital: Such complications include blood clots that can form from lying down for long periods, weakness in muscles used for breathing or moving around, infections, stress ulcers, and depression or other mood disorders. Problems with thinking, memory, and judgment can also result from the long-term use of sedative medicines.
  • Failure of multiple organs: The body’s organs may not work as well or may stop working altogether if they do not get enough oxygen. This lack of oxygen may cause several organs to stop working at the same time, setting up a potentially life-threatening situation.
  • Pulmonary hypertension: This condition is an increase in blood pressure in the major artery leading from the heart to the lungs. This can happen when the blood vessel narrows because of inflammation or mechanical ventilation. ARDS may also cause tiny clots to form in blood vessels in the lungs.
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