Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome practice questions

  • Overview

  • Symptoms

  • Diagnosis

  • 20 multiple choice questions

  • 10 clinical case questions


Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) is a severe pulmonary disorder marked by diminished blood oxygen levels. It typically occurs in individuals already suffering from another medical condition or who have sustained significant injuries.

In cases of ARDS, excess fluid accumulates in the lungs' tiny air sacs, while surfactant—a foamy substance produced by the body that helps keep the lungs expanded for proper breathing—degrades. This accumulation and surfactant reduction hinder the lungs from adequately inflating and distributing oxygen into the blood and across the body, potentially leading to scarring and stiffening of lung tissue.

The onset of ARDS can vary, developing gradually over a few days or rapidly worsening. The primary sign of this syndrome is often difficulty breathing. Additional symptoms include low blood oxygen levels, accelerated breathing, and noises such as clicks, bubbles, or rattles during inhalation.

ARDS can affect individuals at any age. To confirm a diagnosis, a doctor will conduct a physical examination, review the patient's health history, check blood oxygen levels, and perform a chest X-ray. The principal treatment for ARDS involves oxygen therapy. Additional supportive treatments focus on comfort and addressing the underlying cause of the syndrome. These interventions are crucial to averting severe complications like organ damage or failure.


Indicators that you might be developing Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) or could be at risk include:

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Rapid, shallow breaths

  • Elevated heart rate

  • Cough that expels phlegm

  • Bluish discoloration of the fingernails, skin, or lips

  • Severe fatigue

  • Elevated body temperature

  • Crackling noise from the lungs when breathing

  • Pain in the chest, particularly with deep breaths

  • Decreased blood pressure

  • Disorientation or confusion


When learning about Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), it's important to understand how to diagnose this condition. Here’s a simplified explanation going through the diagnostic process:

Medical History Review

Begin by asking about any past medical conditions or recent experiences that could increase the risk of developing ARDS. For instance, travel might be a factor because it can expose a person to infections prevalent in specific areas.

Physicians also inquire about symptoms to distinguish ARDS from other conditions like heart failure, which can mimic ARDS symptoms.

Physical Examination

During the physical examination, look for signs indicative of ARDS:

  • Listen to the lungs using a stethoscope to detect abnormal sounds like crackling, which might suggest fluid buildup.

  • A rapid heartbeat is checked as it can accompany breathing difficulties.

  • They observe if additional muscles are being used for breathing, which shows respiratory distress.

  • The skin and lips are examined for a bluish tint, indicating low blood oxygen levels.

  • They look for swelling that could be related to heart or kidney issues.

  • Blood pressure and oxygen levels are measured to assess the severity.

Diagnostic Tests and Procedures

To confirm ARDS, doctors may perform several tests:

  • Blood tests are crucial. They measure oxygen levels and can indicate whether an infection or other organ problems are present.

  • Pulse oximetry is a non-invasive test that tracks oxygen saturation using a sensor placed on the skin.

  • Imaging tests like chest X-rays or CT scans provide detailed pictures of lung conditions.

  • In uncertain cases, a lung biopsy might be conducted.

Testing for Other Conditions

Additional tests help pinpoint the exact cause of ARDS or eliminate other possible conditions:

  • Sputum cultures analyze phlegm from deep in the lungs to identify infectious agents.

  • Bronchoscopy might be used if the cause of lung issues remains unclear, allowing doctors to collect and analyze cells from the lungs.

  • Urine tests can help detect bacterial infections or kidney problems.

Understanding these steps can give you a clearer picture of how medical professionals diagnose and manage ARDS, highlighting the complexity and thoroughness of the process.