Patients with ARDS show a gradually worsening picture of respiratory disturbance which may rapidly become life threatening.
Usually, there is a latent period of hours or days after the insult with the patient hospitalised for one of the known aetiologic conditions.
This is then followed by stages of:
- respiratory distress - dyspnoea, tachypnoea - but with a normal chest radiograph
- increasing cyanosis, arterial hypoxaemia, and respiratory failure; the chest x-ray now shows diffuse bilateral shadowing which may be asymmetric depending on cause and recent posture
- hypoxaemia becomes refractory to high inspired oxygen and respiratory acidosis develops
- there may be death from hypoxic cardiac arrest
Not all stages are observed in all patients and some recover completely.
Last reviewed 01/2018