A Review of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Management and Treatment

Am J Ther. 2021 Mar-Apr;28(2):e189-e195. doi: 10.1097/MJT.0000000000001343.


Background: Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) was first described in 1967, but its definition has evolved considerably since then. ARDS is defined as the onset of hypoxemia, tachypnea, and loss of lung compliance due to some stimulus. In the United States, the incidence of ARDS has been growing because it is being increasingly recognized. The incidence of ARDS has also gone up recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Areas of uncertainty: To date, there is no known one treatment for ARDS. Multiple studies have looked into various causes of ARDS, pathophysiology, and ventilation and management strategies. However, there is still considerable variability in the treatment and management of these patients from institution to institution.

Data sources: A literature search was conducted through PubMed and Google Scholar. Publications describing the epidemiology, diagnostic criteria, pathophysiology, and treatment were included in this review.

Results: The definition of ARDS has evolved over the years. The most recent and agreed upon diagnostic criteria are based on the Berlin criteria for ARDS. Management of patients with ARDS includes low tidal volume ventilation, prone ventilation, paralysis in certain patient populations, and perhaps extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). This also applies to patients with ARDS due to COVID-19.

Conclusions: Patients with ARDS have a high mortality due to the incredibly complex disease process. Because of the complexity of ARDS, the management and treatment is equally as difficult. This article reviews some of the strategies used to date, including the role of ECMO, and includes some society recommendations. Further research must be done into which methods best guide lung ventilation in severe ARDS and patients on ECMO.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / physiopathology
  • Disease Management
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome* / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome* / physiopathology
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome* / therapy
  • SARS-CoV-2