AssessmentsAcute respiratory distress syndrome
Acute respiratory distress syndrome
USMLE® Step 1 style questions USMLE
USMLE® Step 2 style questions USMLE
A 45-year-old woman is brought to the emergency department because of upper abdominal pain. She has nausea, vomiting, and anorexia. Medical history is contributory for gallstones. Patient's BMI is 39 kg/m2. Her temperature is 38°C (100.4°F), pulse is 107/min, respirations are 31/min, and blood pressure is 85/65 mm Hg. Physical examination shows an ecchymotic discoloration over the flanks. Alkaline phosphatase and serum lipase are both elevated. Which of the following is most likely an associated complication of this patient's condition?
Content Reviewers:Vincent Waldman, PhD
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, or ARDS, is exactly what it sounds like.
‘Acute’ means that it happens rapidly.
‘Respiratory distress’ means that a person becomes unable to breathe and oxygenate their blood, and ‘syndrome’ means that it is a group of symptoms that may be caused by any number of underlying conditions.
Air enters the lungs through a series of airways that branch and narrow until they end in clusters of alveoli, which look kinda like a bunch of grapes.
The alveoli are covered in nets of capillaries that allow gas exchange into and out of the blood.
Gas exchange happens efficiently between alveoli and capillaries because each of their walls is only one cell thick!
Capillaries are lined with a single layer of endothelial cells and alveoli are lined with a single layer of epithelial cells.
These cell layers are fused to one another by the basement membrane and surrounding the alveoli and blood vessels is connective tissue made up of mostly proteins and water - in a space called the interstitial space.
The alveolar epithelial cells—called pneumocytes—come in two types.
The vast majority are type I pneumocytes, which are thin and have a large surface area, a shape that allows oxygen and carbon dioxide to pass through them easily.
There are also type II pneumocytes scattered around which are smaller and thicker, and are important because they make surfactant, an oily secretion that coats the alveoli.
The alveoli are so tiny that their walls end up being really close together.
Surface tension from water molecules lining the alveolar walls can easily attract one another, and pull the walls together, making the alveoli collapse.
Surfactant contains various phospholipids and is a bit like a droplet of oil that coats the inside of the alveoli, blocking the surface tension, so that the alveoli stay open.
In addition to the pneumocytes, there are alveolar macrophages, which a