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Pulmonary edema

Lungs

Definition

Pulmonary edema is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the air sacs of the lungs, which 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 blood to the body efficiently, it can back up into the veins that take blood through the lungs to the left side of the heart.

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. This and the increased pressure can lead to 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 physical exam and use a stethoscope to listen to your lungs and heart. The following may be detected:

Possible tests include:

Treatment

Pulmonary edema is almost always treated in the emergency room or hospital, sometimes in an intensive care unit (ICU).

The cause of edema should be quickly identified and treated. For example, if a heart attack has caused the condition, it must be treated immediately.

Medications that may be prescribed include:

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outlook depends on the cause. The condition may get better quickly or slowly. Some patients 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

If you have a disease that can lead to pulmonary edema or a weakened heart muscle, take all prescription medications as instructed. Following a healthy diet, one low in salt and fat, can significantly reduce the risk of developing this condition.

References

Massie BM. Heart failure: pathophysiology and diagnosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. 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. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 59.


Review Date: 6/4/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.