Pulmonary Edema

What is Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary edema is a condition in which excess fluid fills up in the lungs. This fluid accumulates inside the lungs and fills up the air sac, which makes breathing difficult. A sudden development of pulmonary edema is an emergency situation which needs immediate medical attention. Though the symptoms may improve with correct diagnoses and treatment, the disease may prove fatal if ignored or left untreated. The diagnoses and treatment vary from individual to individual and also depends on the underlying cause.


Symptoms may begin to appear immediately or take time to develop. The early indicators of pulmonary edema are:

  • Dyspnea.
  • Feeling suffocating or drowning.
  • Wheezing or whistling sound from lungs when the person breathes.
  • Mood changes and restlessness resulting from anxiety.
  • Coughing with frothy sputum or mucus discharge tinged with blood.
  • Shooting chest pain when the root cause is heart disorder.
  • Palpitations or irregular heartbeat.
  • Difficulty in breathing when the person performs activity that involves exertion, running, or walking.
  • Sleep apnea or falling short of breath while in resting position.
  • Persistent wheezing sound.
  • Unexpected weight gain when pulmonary edema develops due to heart congestion.
  • The increase of weight is due to fluid fill-up in the body, especially lower limbs.
  • Fluid fill-up in legs may result in swelling, making it difficult to walk.
  • Fatigue and tiredness.
  • Headaches.
  • Chest discomfort and pain.
  • Fever with coughing.


Lungs contain air sacs called alveoli that take in oxygen with each breath and releases carbon dioxide. The exchange of gas is a normal process and does not create pressure while breathing. In cases where alveoli fill up with fluids instead of air, it prevents oxygen absorption that is required by the human body. Fluid can fill up due to heart diseases and develop cardiogenic pulmonary edema. Other factors resulting in non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema are:

  • ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome).
  • Living at high altitudes.
  • Nervous system disorder.
  • Severe drug reactions.
  • Viral infections like cough cold and flu.
  • Lung injuries or trauma to the chest.
  • Smoking and fume inhalation.


The chronic or prolonged cases of pulmonary edema create pressure on the pulmonary artery. The pressure causes pulmonary hypertension, which weakens the right ventricle. Since the right side of the heart has to work hard, the lining of the right ventricle is much thinner, and therefore, is under greater pressure. The built-up pressure then backs up into the right atrium, moving into various parts of the body, where it causes:

  • Abdominal swelling.
  • Fluid buildup in membranes surrounding the lungs.
  • Chest congestion and swelling in the liver.


Following are some measures that can help prevent pulmonary edema:

  • Controlling blood pressure.
  • Maintaining correct cholesterol level.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Reducing salt intake.
  • Managing stress.
  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle.

How is it diagnosed?

Our doctor at Medanta will first perform a physical examination with the help of a stethoscope to hear the crackling of the lungs and breathing or wheezing sound. Abnormal rhythms of the heartbeat ...

How is it treated?

Since pulmonary edema causes the oxygen levels in the blood to drop rapidly, patients may feel suffocated and complain about chest pain and breathlessness or difficulty in breathing. The following treatments are employed at Medanta to treat the di..

  • Restoring the required blood oxygen levels

     To restore the required blood oxygen levels, oxygen is supplied with help of tiny plastic tubes through the nose using a facemask. Under severe conditions, the patient may also be put on a ventilator machine. 

  • Diuretics

    Pulmonary edema due to circulatory causes is treated with help of nitrates and loop diuretics. For the treatment of altitude-induced pulmonary edema, viagra is used as the preventive medicine.

  • Medication

    Depending on the severity of the disease, following medications may be recommended for the treatment of pulmonary edema:

    • Preload reducers: Decreases pressure buildup inside the heart and lungs. Doctors prescribe nitroglycerin and diuretics to treat pulmonary edema.
    • Morphine: Narcotic medicine to relieve shortness of breath and anxiety. It should be used only in extreme cases.
    • Afterload reducers: Dilators or blood thinning medicines to keep pressure off the heart, and help in functioning normally.
    • Blood pressure medications: Medicines to keep blood pressure under control so as to keep the heart functions normal.

When do I contact the doctor?

Consult a doctor immediately as soon as you start experiencing palpitation and dizziness accompanied with frothy sputum and cough. 

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