Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS): A Guide for Family and Friends
What Is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome?
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) is a form of lung failure. This lung failure can result from a number of problems such as infection, shock and trauma. Some problems linked with ARDS are: pneumonia, fractures, burns, head injuries, many blood transfusions, organ transplants, and trauma. In ARDS, the lungs become "leaky". Air sacs in the lungs become filled with fluid. The extra fluid makes the lungs become "stiff". Breathing and oxygen transfer becomes harder.
Care of the Patient with ARDS
Your family member or friend will be in an intensive care unit (ICU). The patient will be watched closely 24 hours a day by nurses, doctors, and respiratory therapists.
The patient will have a breathing tube placed either in his mouth or his nose. This tube goes down the throat, past the vocal cords, and into the large airways of the lungs. The breathing tube (or ET tube) is connected to a breathing machine by long hoses.
Ventilator or breathing machine
This machine pushes air with oxygen in and out of the lungs. It is needed to keep the lungs and its air sacs open. This helps oxygen to get into the blood and carbon dioxide to get out. The breathing machine also takes over the work of breathing so that the lungs can rest and have time to heal.
While the breathing tube is in place, it will be cleaned out when mucus builds up. To do this, a small tube is put into the breathing tube and the mucus is sucked out. This is called suctioning. You may be asked to leave the bedside when this is done.
Having a breathing tube in place can be scary. The patient will not be able to talk. He may feel short of breath, even though he is getting plenty of air. We treat anxiety with sedatives when needed. Patients at times may try to pull the breathing tube out. Because this breathing machine is needed, the staff may need to restrain the patient's hands with soft restraints for his own safety.
Sometimes the patient wants to breathe faster than the machine. This fast breathing makes it hard to rest the lungs. Sometimes the doctors use a drug called a paralytic to keep the patient from breathing too much. If this drug is used, your friend or family member will not be able to move or open his eyes. Once the drug is stopped, the patient will be able to move and open his eyes again. For comfort, other drugs, such as sedatives and pain medicines are given when a patient is on a breathing machine. Members of the health care team are always here to answer any of your questions.
Fluids, drugs, and nutrition are given into the blood through a thin plastic tube called an IV (into the vein) line. It is common for a patient to have many IV lines. Most IV lines are on pumps that report the exact amount the patient receives each hour. Ask the nurse any question you may have about IVs.
How can I make my visit helpful?
Because your family member or friend can not meet his basic need for oxygen, the patient needs to depend on others and on equipment in order to survive. This can cause a great feeling of loss of control and increased feelings of dependency. It is helpful for you and staff to talk to the patient and tell him that he is being taken good care of and is being watched all of the time.
When you come to visit, you may hold the patient's hand and talk to the patient. The patient may or may not be able to respond to you because of the medicines. We assume the patient can hear what is being said. A familiar voice and touch are calming.
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome can be a serious problem seen with many diseases and injuries. Many recent advances have been made in the treatment of ARDS. Because of our experienced staff and advanced technology, we are able to provide excellent care.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 08/26/2013
Copyright © 08/26/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4232
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