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Pulmonary edema


Definition:

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

Alternative Names:

Lung congestion; Lung water; Pulmonary congestion

Symptoms:

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 and try 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 (consciousness)
  • Leg or abdominal swelling
  • Pale skin
  • Sweating (excessive)
Treatment:

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
Outlook (Prognosis):

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 to Contact a Medical Professional:

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

Prevention:

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.

References:

Massie BM. Heart failure: pathophysiology and diagnosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 58.

Matthay MA, Martin TR. Pulmonary edema and acute lung injury. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus VC, Martin TR, et al. Murray & Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 55.

McMurray JJV, Pfeffer MA. Heart failure: management and prognosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 59.


Review Date: 5/13/2014
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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