What Is Pulmonary Edema? Everything to Know
This article explains the causes of pulmonary edema. It also looks at symptoms, treatment options, and when to contact a doctor.
Breathing difficulty causes many pulmonary edema symptoms. Some symptoms may indicate the underlying cause of pulmonary edema.
Symptoms of pulmonary edema can include:
- breathing difficulties
- shortness of breath
- shallow breathing
- pink, frothy mucus from the nose and mouth
- feeling clammy or sweating
- swollen feet and ankles
- feeling of suffocation
- pale or blueish skin
Learn more about breathing difficulties.
Pulmonary edema occurs when air sacs in the lungs are filled with fluid. Healthy air sacs allow oxygen to enter the bloodstream. With pulmonary edema, the fluid in the air sacs prevents the entry of oxygen, resulting in shortness of breath.
Cardiovascular causes of pulmonary edema
More than 1 million people a year are admitted to the hospital for pulmonary edema because of a heart condition.
If the heart can’t pump blood from the lungs, the pressure inside the lungs increases. Increased pressure can cause fluid to enter the air sacs inside the lung.
Cardiovascular causes of pulmonary edema include:
- myocardial infarction
- coronary heart disease
- cardiac arrhythmia
- stenosis and regurgitation
Learn more about heart conditions.
Other causes of pulmonary edema
Lung damage can also cause pulmonary edema. Damage leading to pulmonary edema may be the result of:
- acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
- bacterial pneumonia
- high altitude or rapid rate of ascent
- lung injury
- high blood pressure
- kidney failure
Treatment will vary greatly depending on the underlying cause.
Your doctor may also recommend treatments to manage pulmonary edema symptoms. Possible treatments include:
- supplemental oxygen through a mask
- continuous positive airway pressure to improve your breathing
- diuretics to remove excess fluid
- inotropes to help improve the way your heart pumps
- ACE inhibitors to manage your blood pressure
- morphine to reduce anxiety, which can help you manage your breathing
- ventilator in cases where other methods do not improve breathing
Contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about the symptoms of pulmonary edema. It can be a serious condition, so a diagnosis is important for early treatment.
To reach a diagnosis, your doctor may perform a physical exam and ask about your medical history.
Tests they may order include:
Complications of pulmonary edema typically occur as a result of the underlying condition.
Possible complications could include:
- respiratory failure
- valvular heart disease
- cardiac tamponade
- Dressler syndrome
Depending on the underlying cause, it may not be possible to prevent pulmonary edema. However, steps to reduce your risk of heart disease to help prevent cardiogenic pulmonary edema include:
- exercising regularly if you can
- maintaining a moderate weight
- eating a diet low in cholesterol
- reducing salt intake or consuming a moderate amount
- avoiding alcohol or drinking in moderation
- quitting smoking if you smoke
Following your treatment plan for existing pulmonary edema may also help reduce the risk of recurrence.
Pulmonary edema is the collection of fluid inside the lungs. Pleural effusion is when fluid builds outside the lungs, in the space between the lungs and the chest cavity.
Learn more about pleural effusion.
Pulmonary edema is a potentially serious condition that occurs when fluid builds inside the lungs. Cardiogenic pulmonary edema happens as a result of a heart condition. Noncardiogenic pulmonary edema is a result of lung damage.
Treatments include oxygen, continuous positive airway pressure, and medications.