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Pulmonary edema

Respiratory system


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; Heart failure - pulmonary edema


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 of pulmonary edema may include:

Other symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a thorough physical exam.

The 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:


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.


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.


Januzzi JL, Mann DL. Clinical assessment of heart failure. In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 23.

Matthay MA, Martin TR, Murray JF. Pulmonary edema. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray & Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 62.

O'Connor CM, Rogers JG. Heart failure. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 58.

Review Date: 2/24/2016
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.