Pulmonary Edema

What is Pulmonary Edema?

Pulmonary Edema is a condition where you have trouble breathing, caused by excess fluid in your lungs. Alveoli, the tiny air sacs in your lung that fill up with oxygen and release carbon dioxide, can’t function properly when they become partially filled with fluid.

Heart problems are usually responsible for pulmonary edema, but other diseases like pneumonia can also cause the condition. Some people experience fluid buildup in the lungs after using certain medicines or experiencing a traumatic injury to the chest. You may also get high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) from exercising at altitudes above 2,000 or 3,000 feet.

Pulmonary edema can come on very gradually or very suddenly. The sudden, or acute, version can be fatal, so it is important to seek medical attention if you have any trouble breathing.

What are the Symptoms of Pulmonary Edema?

Sudden symptoms may include trouble breathing, tightness in the chest, coughing, sweating, and developing a blue tint to your nails and lips. You may also see pink, bubbly mucus at your nose and mouth.

Pulmonary edema that is caused by congestive heart failure or another heart disease happens more slowly, and you’ll experience gradual shortness of breath when you lie down or get up as well as fatigue. Some people retain fluid and become swollen.

How is Pulmonary Edema Treated?

No matter what the cause is, a case of pulmonary edema is usually first treated by giving you oxygen to ensure your body is getting sufficient amounts.

Your doctor may prescribe medication that can help you reduce the fluid in your body, which will lessen the fluid in your lungs. For pulmonary edema caused by heart problems, medications to help your heart work more efficiently may clear up some of your symptoms.

Two methods of increasing oxygen in the air you breathe can also help. Noninvasive, positive pressure ventilation (NPPV) and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) are especially helpful for treating chronic forms of the disease.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
August 24, 2017