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Pulmonary Edema

Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.

What is Pulmonary Edema?

Basically this means there is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the air sacs of your lungs that limits your breathing capacity. It is a medical condition that can not only be serious but it can also be life threatening. It can happen to anyone of any age, sex, gender, or race.

Pulmonary Edema Symptoms

Depending on what the cause is the symptoms may develop slowly or appear suddenly. You may also experience the symptoms every once in awhile or every day.

Some of the symptoms that are associated with pulmonary edema may include:

  • Being extremely short of breath or having trouble breathing.
  • Feeling like you are drowning or suffocating.
  • Gasping for breath or wheezing.
  • Feeling fatigued.
  • Weakness or feeling light-headed.
  • Restlessness and anxiety.
  • Sweating that is excessive.
  • Skin that is pale.
  • Chest pain if the cause is your heart.
  • Cough that could produce sputum that is frothy and could be tinged with blood.
  • Grunting when you breath.
  • When lying down you experience sudden respiratory distress.

These symptoms, if not treated immediately, can progress to:

  • Breathing that becomes rapid.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Skin that is sweaty and bluish in color, especially of your fingernails or lips.
  • Ankle edema which is swelling in your legs.
  • Heart beat is faster than it normally should be.
  • Not having the ability to speak using long sentences.

Symptoms of chronic, or long-term, pulmonary edema

  • Being short of breath more than normal when you are physically active.
  • Having difficulty breathing with exertion, happening more often when you are lying flat.
  • Wheezing that can be continual.
  • Waking up at night with a feeling of breathlessness that you may be able to relieve when you sit up.
  • Gaining weight rapidly if it is a result of congestive heart failure. Fluid buildup is the cause of this weight gain, especially in the legs.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Swelling in your ankles and legs.

Pulmonary Edema Causes

The main cause of pulmonary edema has been attributed mainly to problems with your heart but it can happen any time your lungs become invaded with any type of infection.

Some of the causes can include:

A heart problem

Simply put, if your heart does not work right it is likely that you will develop pulmonary edema. Some of the heart problems that can develop and cause pulmonary edema are defective heart valves, cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, especially it if is uncontrolled or untreated, coronary artery disease, or having a history of heart attacks.


This is an infection of your lungs that can be caused by fungi, viruses, or bacteria. In response to the infection the air sacs in your lungs become filled with fluid and pus, impairing the oxygen flow in your lungs. This can cause problems with your breathing.


This is a bacterial lung infection that is severe. This disease will cause an excessive build up of the fluid around your lungs.


This can result from electrocution or strangulation that will reduce the blood flow to your lungs and can lead to the build up of fluid. It could also happen because of a near drowning accident.

Problems with your liver

If your liver is considerably damaged the excess water will accumulate in your lungs. Some of the diseases that can cause this include cirrhosis, drinking alcohol in excess, and more.

Lung cancer

If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer the water retention can happen around and inside your lungs.

Inhaling toxic gases

These poisonous gasses can include smoke from a fire or ammonia. They irritate your lungs

Blood transfusions

This can be the cause if the transfusion process is not done correctly. Approximately five out of ten transfusions cause injury to the lungs.

High altitudes

If you are going to be in high altitudes you need to make sure that you have the right equipment with you to help increase the air pressure and oxygen levels.

Problems with your kidneys

If you have too much sodium in your body and the kidney’s cannot get rid of it all it can cause fluid retention.


The main way that your physician can diagnosis pulmonary edema is by taking a chest x-ray because if there is any water retention around or in your lungs it can be seen on the x-ray. The physician may also suspect pulmonary edema if you have a lot of swelling in your legs and ankles and do a chest x-ray to confirm the diagnosis. The physician may also do an electrocardiography to gather information about your heart to see if that is the cause.


The treatment that is use depends on what is causing the excessive fluid to accumulate in or around your lungs but for the treatment that is prescribed there are certain things that you must do.

  • Avoid or stop smoking.
  • Stop consuming alcohol.
  • Maintain a healthy diet that is low in salt.

Some of the treatments that may be used include

  • Taking a diuretic, either over-the-counter or prescription to help drain the excess fluid from your lungs.
  • Medications to treat the underlying cause such as antibiotics if you have tuberculosis, for congestive heart failure you may be given ACE inhibitors to help improve the circulation of your blood, high blood pressure medications to stabilize your blood pressure. These may be given along with a diuretic.
  • Using a face mask you may be give a high dose of oxygen to help you breathe easier.
  • To help boost the function of your heart you may be given Coenzyme Q10, a vitamin B1 supplement, vitamin E supplement.
  • If you have severe edema you may have to use a breathing machine for a long period of time.

It is very important to follow the medical advice and treatment that your physician gives you to get rid of the excessive fluid in and around your lungs so you get better and do not develop more serious health problems.

Pulmonary Edema Pictures

pulmonary edema pictures

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pulmonary edema pictures 3

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