6 essential facts to know about pulmonary edemas

November 3, 2015

Pulmonary edema is a condition where fluid builds up in the lungs. The problem can be chronic or acute and life-threatening. Here are the symptoms you should look for, what you can do to prevent it and when you should call an ambulance.

6 essential facts to know about pulmonary edemas

1. Edemas are easy to understand

  • Your lungs are made up of tiny air-filled sacs, like millions of balloons. They're the oxygen-exchange factory of your body.
  • When things are working well, the heart pumps blood in from the rest of your body, sends it through the lungs and then sends it back out to the body.
  • This usually happens rapidly. Blood passes through the lungs quickly, picking up oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide on its way.
  • When you have a pulmonary edema, the heart isn't working properly and blood backs up in the vessels of the lungs.
  • The air-sacs become waterlogged as a result, keeping them from oxygenating the blood properly.

2. Acute pulmonary edema symptoms are easy to spot

Symptoms of acute pulmonary edemas can include:

  • Shortness of breath which is worse when lying down
  • Feeling like you're drowning or suffocating
  • A cough producing frothy sputum, which may be tinged with blood
  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain, if it is caused by an underlying heart condition
  • A sudden drop in blood pressure, resulting in dizziness, weakness, and sweating
  • Blue or grey-tinged skin
  • Difficulty breathing, with profuse sweating

If you have these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Acute pulmonary edemas can be fatal.

3. You can learn about chronic pulmonary edema symptoms

The symptoms of chronic pulmonary edemas are similar but less severe. They include:

  • Shortness of breath with activity, which gets worse with exertion or when lying flat
  • Wheezing
  • Nighttime shortness of breath, which improves with sitting up
  • Water weight-gain, especially in the legs
  • Chronic fatigue

If you are suffering from these symptoms, see your doctor. Chronic pulmonary edemas can be serious, but is usually manageable.

4. There are many causes

A pulmonary edema is usually caused by an underlying heart condition, such as coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy or heart valve problems. However, it can be brought on by various other problems which affect the heart or lungs, including:

  • Chest trauma
  • Sepsis
  • Drug reactions
  • Blood clots
  • Viral infections
  • Exposure to toxins - especially ammonia and chlorine
  • Smoke inhalation
  • High altitudes
  • Near-drowning

5. Treatment options are available

  • A pulmonary edema is treated first and foremost with oxygen. It's imperative to re-oxygenate the blood and disburse oxygen to all parts of the body.
  • Diuretics may be prescribed to relieve fluid build-up. Sometimes morphine is used to reduce shortness of breath and anxiety.
  • If you have high blood pressure, blood pressure stabilizers may be necessary.
  • Nitroglycerin is also a standard treatment. It dilates the blood vessels of the heart and reduces its work load.

6. There are things you can do to help

If you have high blood pressure, do your best to keep it under control. High blood pressure can damage the heart and lead to a pulmonary edema.

  • Take care of any other underlying conditions
  • Avoid the cause, if possible---high altitudes, some allergens, and some toxins can lead to PE
  • Stop smoking
  • Keep a healthy weight. Excess weight puts a strain on the heart.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Limit salt, especially if you already have a heart condition
  • Exercise 30 minutes a day to keep your heart healthy

If you think you may have chronic pulmonary edema, talk to your doctor. If you have any of the symptoms of the acute version, don't wait to seek medical attention. Your heart will thank you.

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