ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) - Diagnosis

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How is ARDS Diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose ARDS based on your medical history, a physical exam, and test results.

Medical History

Your doctor will ask whether you have or have recently had conditions that could lead to ARDS.

Your doctor also will ask whether you have heart problems, such as heart failure. Heart failure can cause fluid to build up in your lungs.

Physical Exam

ARDS may cause abnormal breathing sounds, such as crackling. Your doctor will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope to hear these sounds.

He or she also will listen to your heart and look for signs of extra fluid in other parts of your body. Extra fluid may mean you have heart or kidney problems.

Your doctor will look for a bluish color on your skin and lips. A bluish color means your blood has a low level of oxygen. This is a possible sign of ARDS.

Diagnostic Tests

You may have ARDS or another condition that causes similar symptoms. To find out, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests.

Initial Tests

The first tests done are:

  • An arterial blood gas test. This blood test shows the oxygen level in your blood. A low level of oxygen in the blood may be a sign of ARDS.
  • Chest X-ray. This test is used to take pictures of the structures in your chest, such as your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. It can show whether you have extra fluid in your lungs.
  • Blood tests, such as a complete blood count, blood chemistries, and blood cultures. These tests help find the cause of ARDS, such as an infection.
  • A sputum culture. This test is used to study the spit you've coughed up from your lungs. A sputum culture can help find the cause of an infection.

Other Tests

Other tests used to diagnose ARDS include:

  • Chest computed tomography (to-MOG-rah-fee) scan, or chest CT scan. This test uses a computer to create detailed pictures of your lungs. A chest CT scan may show lung problems, such as fluid in the lungs, signs of pneumonia, or a tumor.
  • Heart tests that look for signs of heart failure. Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. This condition can cause fluid to build up in your lungs.
Return to ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome)

See what others are saying

Comment from: Gale, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: February 26

I began feeling ill on a Monday and by Wednesday was in the hospital with pneumonia. By Thursday night I was in the ICU where I spent 6 days most of which I don"t remember. My oxygen levels were low and I"m told I didn"t make much sense when I spoke. I was diagnosed with ARDS and spent a total of 2 weeks in the hospital and then spent 2 1/2 months out of work recuperating from the illness. I was so weakened after the 2 weeks in the hospital that I had physical therapy for 8 weeks. I"m told I was very near death.

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Comment from: Husband, 35-44 Female (Caregiver) Published: September 03

My wife was admitted to a local hospital on 3/27/14 when she was first diagnosed with pneumonia. Two days later she went on a ventilator. Several days later we were told she had mold in her lungs, they called it mucormycosis. Near death my options for her were a rotor-bed, and another hospital, or let her pass on. I was informed by one of her nurses about another hospital. She was flown there that night. Two days later I was informed her prognosis wasn't good. Long story short after weeks of being on ventilator she was diagnosed with ARDS.

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