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Pulmonary edema

Lungs
Respiratory system

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

Causes

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.

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

Pulmonary edema may also be caused by:

Symptoms

Symptoms of pulmonary edema may include:

Other symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a thorough physical exam.

The health care provider will listen to your lungs and heart with a stethoscope to check for:

Other things that may be seen during the exam include:

Possible tests include:

Treatment

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

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:

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.