What is pulmonary edema?

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor

Know the basics

What is pulmonary edema?

Pulmonary edema is a buildup of fluids in the lungs. The fluids accumulate in the air sacs, making it difficult to breathe. It is usually caused by heart problems, but there are other medical conditions that can lead to pulmonary edema.

Pulmonary edema can develop suddenly (acute) or a long-term condition (chronic). This condition is fatal if it develop suddenly, causing shortness of breath that requires immediate care . However, if identified in time, it is usually treatable and can improve with prompt treatment. Treatment for pulmonary edema includes treating pulmonary edema itself and the underlying cause as well.

How common is pulmonary edema?

Pulmonary edema is a common condition in elderly people but very uncommon in young people. About 1 in 15 people aged 75-84 and just over 1 in 7 people aged 85 years and above have heart failure. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of pulmonary edema?

Depending on whether you have acute or chronic pulmonary edema, the symptoms are slightly different. But generally, you will experience:

  • Trouble breathing;
  • Anxiety or restlessness;
  • Decrease in level of alertness (consciousness);
  • Leg or abdominal swelling;
  • Pale skin;
  • Sweating (excessive).

Sudden (acute) pulmonary edema symptoms

  • Extreme shortness of breath or difficulty breathing (dyspnea) that worsens when lying down;
  • Feeling like you are suffocating or drowning;
  • Wheezing or gasping for breath;
  • Anxiety, restlessness;
  • Coughing up mucus or blood;
  • Chest pain if pulmonary edema is caused by heart disease;
  • A rapid, irregular heartbeat (palpitations).

Long-term (chronic) pulmonary edema symptoms

  • Having trouble breathing when you perform physical activities or lying down;
  • Wheezing;
  • Interrupted sleep caused by difficulty breathing;
  • Rapid weight gain from buildup of fluid in your body, especially in your legs;
  • Swelling in your lower body, especially in your legs;
  • Fatigue.

In some cases, being instaying at higher altitude can also lead to pulmonary edema with . You will also experienceing difficulty breathing, coughing (sometimes with blood or mucus), headache and fever if you travel higher up.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Pulmonary edema can be a fatal condition. You should contact your local emergency health provider immediately if you notice symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath, especially if it comes on suddenly;
  • Trouble breathing or a feeling of suffocating (dyspnea);
  • A bubbly, wheezing or gasping sound when you breathe;
  • Pink, frothy sputum when you cough;
  • Breathing difficulty along with profuse sweating;
  • A blue or gray tone to your skin;
  • A significant drop in blood pressure resulting in lightheadedness, dizziness, weakness or sweating;
  • A sudden worsening of any of the symptoms associated with chronic pulmonary edema or high-altitude pulmonary edema.

Know the causes

What causes pulmonary edema?

Your lungs are filled with many tiny air sacs that take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide each breath. When you have pulmonary edema, instead of taking in air, they are filled with fluids. Pulmonary edema is divided into 2 categories: cardiogenic PE and noncardiogenic PE.

The first group This is often caused by congestive heart failure – a condition in which your heart pumps too little blood to meet your body’s needs and t. When this happens, the blood can back up into the veins and become trapped in the lungs. There are many conditions that can lead to congestive heart failure, such as:

  • Coronary artery disease: the arteries that supply blood to your heart muscle can become narrow from fatty deposits;
  • Cardiomyopathy: your heart muscle is damaged;
  • Heart valve problems: the valves that regulate blood flow don’t function properly;
  • High blood pressure (hypertension).

If pulmonary edema isn’t caused by congestive heart failure, it is possible that your capillaries (the blood vessels that lead blood into your lungs) have become weak or leaky.

The second group might be one of those following causes:Possible causes include:

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS): your lungs suddenly fill with fluid and inflammatory white blood cells;
  • High altitudes: drastic changes in air pressure can cause fluids to fill your lungs;
  • Nervous system conditions: after a head injury, seizure, subarachnoid hemorrhage, or brain surgery, pulmonary edema might occur;
  • Pulmonary embolism: a blood clots causes you blood to be trapped in your lungs;
  • Lung injury;
  • Adverse drug reaction or exposure to certain toxins;
  • Viral infections;
  • Near drowning.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for pulmonary edema?

There are many risk factors for pulmonary edema, such as:

  • Age: older people are more prone to conditions that can cause pulmonary edema;
  • Having the above mentioned conditions.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is pulmonary edema diagnosed?

Your doctor will check your physical symptoms for signs of pulmonary edema such as:

  • Leg or abdominal swelling;
  • Abnormalities of your neck veins;
  • Pale or blue skin color.

Next your doctor will check your lungs and heart to identify if the pulmonary edema is caused by aany heart problem.

  • Abnormal heart sounds;
  • Crackles in your lungs, called rales;
  • Increased heart rate (tachycardia);
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea).

Other things that may be seen during the exam include:

  • Blood testschemistries;
  • Monitoring blood oxygen levels;, using pulse oximetry, which uses a sensor placed over a thin area of skin such as a fingertip;
  • Chest X-ray to look for signs of heart failure or any other problem in the lungs, such as pneumonia;
  • Complete blood count;
  • Echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) to see if there are problems with the heart muscle (such as weakness, thickness, failure to relax properly, leaky or narrow heart valves, or fluid surrounding the heart).
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) to look for signs of a heart attack or problems with the heart rhythm.

How is pulmonary edema treated?

People with sudden onset of pulmonary edema usually need urgent admission to hospital. You may need to be in an intensive care unit (ICU) to remove the excess fluid from the lungs and to help the heart work more effectively.

Treatment involves using oxygen given through a face mask or tiny plastic tubes, or a breathing tube to help you breathe on your own.

The cause of edema needs to should be identified and treated quickly. Depending on your condition and the reason for your pulmonary edema, you may also receive one or more of the following medications. For example, if a heart attack has caused the condition, it must be treated right away:.

Medicines that may be used include:

  • Preload reducing medications to prevent fluid going into your heart and lungs. Doctors commonly prescribe nitroglycerin and diuretics such as furosemide (Lasix) to treat pulmonary edema. The drug nNifedipine (Procardia) may sometimes be prescribed.
  • Morphine:  (Avinza, MS Contin). This narcotic may be used to relieve shortness of breath and anxiety.
  • Afterload reducers. These medications, such as nitroprusside,  (Nitropress), dilate your blood vessels and reduce the pressure in your heart.
  • Medicines that strengthen the heart muscle, control the heartbeat, or relieve pressure on the heart.

If you get pulmonary edema  from high altitude, the first step is to get an oxygen tankor go to lower altitudes where the air oxygen is higher. Then, take prescription medications such as acetazolamide (Diamox Sequels) or nifedipine to help treat or prevent symptoms.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage pulmonary edema?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with pulmonary edema:

  • Controlling the underlying condition by taking medications as prescribed by your doctor;
  • Quit smoking;
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising;
  • Eating a healthy diet by:
  • Eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains;
  • Eating less salt;
  • Getting regular exercise;
  • Quitting smoking if you smoke;
  • Losing weight if you have extra pounds.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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