What is the definition of Pulmonary Edema?

Pulmonary edema is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the lungs. This buildup of fluid leads to shortness of breath.

What are the alternative names for Pulmonary Edema?

Lung congestion; Lung water; Pulmonary congestion; Heart failure - pulmonary edema

What are the causes for Pulmonary Edema?

Pulmonary edema is often caused by congestive heart failure. When the heart is not able to pump efficiently, blood can back up into the veins that take blood through the lungs.

As the pressure in these blood vessels increases, fluid is pushed into the air spaces (alveoli) in the lungs. This fluid reduces normal oxygen movement through the lungs. These two factors combine to cause shortness of breath.

Lungs

Congestive heart failure that leads to pulmonary edema may be caused by:

  • Heart attack, or any disease of the heart that weakens or stiffens the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Leaking or narrowed heart valves (mitral or aortic valves)
  • Sudden, severe high blood pressure (hypertension)

Pulmonary edema may also be caused by:

  • Certain medicines
  • High altitude exposure
  • Kidney failure
  • Narrowed arteries that bring blood to the kidneys
  • Lung damage caused by poisonous gas or severe infection
  • Major injury

What are the symptoms for Pulmonary Edema?

Symptoms of pulmonary edema may include:

  • Coughing up blood or bloody froth
  • Difficulty breathing when lying down (orthopnea)
  • Feeling of "air hunger" or "drowning" (This feeling is called "paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea" if it causes you to wake up 1 to 2 hours after falling asleep and struggle to catch your breath.)
  • Grunting, gurgling, or wheezing sounds with breathing
  • Problems speaking in full sentences because of shortness of breath

Other symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Decrease in level of alertness
  • Leg or abdominal swelling
  • Pale skin
  • Sweating (excessive)

What are the current treatments for Pulmonary Edema?

Pulmonary edema is almost always treated in the emergency room or hospital. You may need to be in an intensive care unit (ICU).

  • Oxygen is given through a face mask or tiny plastic tubes are placed in the nose.
  • A breathing tube may be placed into the windpipe (trachea) so you can be connected to a breathing machine (ventilator) if you cannot breathe well on your own.

The cause of edema should be identified and treated quickly. For example, if a heart attack has caused the condition, it must be treated right away.

Medicines that may be used include:

  • Diuretics that remove excess fluid from the body
  • Medicines that strengthen the heart muscle, control the heartbeat, or relieve pressure on the heart
  • Other medicines when heart failure is not the cause of the pulmonary edema

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Pulmonary Edema?

The outlook depends on the cause. The condition may get better quickly or slowly. Some people may need to use a breathing machine for a long time. If not treated, this condition can be life threatening.

When should I contact a medical professional for Pulmonary Edema?

Go to the emergency room or call 911 or the local emergency number if you have breathing problems.

How do I prevent Pulmonary Edema?

Take all your medicines as directed if you have a disease that can lead to pulmonary edema or a weakened heart muscle.

Following a healthy diet that is low in salt and fat, and controlling your other risk factors can reduce the risk of developing this condition.

Respiratory

REFERENCES

Felker GM, Teerlink JR. Diagnosis and management of acute heart failure. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 24.

Matthay MA, Murray JF. Pulmonary edema. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 62.

Rogers JG, O'Connor CM. Heart failure: pathophysiology and diagnosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 52.

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