Background: Lung auscultation and bedside chest radiography are routinely used to assess the respiratory condition of ventilated patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Clinical experience suggests that the diagnostic accuracy of these procedures is poor.
Methods: This prospective study of 32 patients with ARDS and 10 healthy volunteers was performed to compare the diagnostic accuracy of auscultation, bedside chest radiography, and lung ultrasonography with that of thoracic computed tomography. Three pathologic entities were evaluated in 384 lung regions (12 per patient): pleural effusion, alveolar consolidation, and alveolar-interstitial syndrome.
Results: Auscultation had a diagnostic accuracy of 61% for pleural effusion, 36% for alveolar consolidation, and 55% for alveolar-interstitial syndrome. Bedside chest radiography had a diagnostic accuracy of 47% for pleural effusion, 75% for alveolar consolidation, and 72% for alveolar-interstitial syndrome. Lung ultrasonography had a diagnostic accuracy of 93% for pleural effusion, 97% for alveolar consolidation, and 95% for alveolar-interstitial syndrome. Lung ultrasonography, in contrast to auscultation and chest radiography, could quantify the extent of lung injury. Interobserver agreement for the ultrasound findings as assessed by the kappa statistic was satisfactory: 0.74, 0.77, and 0.73 for detection of alveolar-interstitial syndrome, alveolar consolidation, and pleural effusion, respectively.
Conclusions: At the bedside, lung ultrasonography is highly sensitive, specific, and reproducible for diagnosing the main lung pathologic entities in patients with ARDS and can be considered an attractive alternative to bedside chest radiography and thoracic computed tomography.