What Is Pulmonary Edema?
Pulmonary Edema is a condition in which lung alveoli (air sacs) are filled with fluid making it hard to breathe. Since this interferes with oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange, it may result in respiratory failure. There are 4 types of pulmonary edema:
- Acute pulmonary Edema – Which occurs suddenly
- Chronic pulmonary Edema – It occurs slowly over some time.
- Cardiogenic pulmonary Edema – If any of the underlying heart problems is causing Edema in the alveoli, it is known as cardiogenic pulmonary Edema.
- High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) – This happens when people travel or do physical activity at high altitudes.
Pulmonary Edema Symptoms
Different types of pulmonary Edema will have different symptoms besides breathing difficulty caused by interference in the gas exchange. Other pulmonary edema symptoms include the following:
In acute condition, you will observe these.
- Excessive sweating
- Chest pain
- Pale skin
- Blue coloured lips
In a chronic condition, you may observe these:
- Swelling in feet or legs
- A weight gain that is caused suddenly due to fluid retention
- Increased breathlessness during exercise
- Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea –episodes of severe breathlessness at night
- Difficulty to breathe while sleeping flay – Orthopnea
In HAPE, you may observe these:
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty walking uphill
- Shortness of breath after exercise and during rest.
Who is at Risk?
People with underlying heart disease are at higher risk of developing cardiogenic pulmonary Edema. Also, those who have a weak immune system will be susceptible to breathing issues. The other underlying risk factors are:
- High blood pressure
All the above-mentioned conditions are considered as pulmonary edema risk factors.
Pulmonary Edema Causes
The most commonly seen pulmonary edema cause is congestive Heart Failure (CHF). This occurs when your heart fails to pump blood properly resulting in backup pressure in the blood vessels of lungs leading to fluid leakage from the blood vessels. This condition leads to oxygen deprivation in the rest of the body parts.
Other reasons for pulmonary edema include the following medical conditions that are not very common:
- Kidney failure
- Heart diseases and heart attack
- Leakage, narrowing or damage in the blood vessels
- Sudden and high blood pressure
- Infectious diseases causing lung damages
- Severe sepsis of blood due to infection
- Lung damage by inhaling toxins.
- Over usage of medicines
- Major injury or accident
- Severe trauma
- Exposure to high altitude
How is Pulmonary Edema Diagnosed?
A pulmonologist is the best doctor to consult for this condition. The doctor will do a physical examination using a stethoscope to check for the following symptoms:
- Rapid breathing
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Increased heart rate
- Crackling sound from lungs
The doctor will also examine for fluid retention in the abdomen, legs, and neck. Pulmonary Edema diagnosis involves the following tests too:
- Complete blood count and blood markers of heart failure.
- A blood test to check the oxygen level
- Electrolyte levels
- Echocardiogram to check abnormal heart functioning
- Fluid level to be checked through a Chest X-ray
- ECG to check heartbeat and signs of a heart attack.
All the above pulmonary edema test will furnish enough information to start the treatment
How is Pulmonary Edema Treated?
Pulmonary Edema treatment will start with consulting a pulmonologist. The very first line of treatment is providing enough oxygen to your body through a nasal cannula, oxygen mask, or positive pressure mask. Depending on the cause the doctor will prescribe medicine for pulmonary edema to treat heart conditions like high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. Treatment also involves preload reducers, afterload reducers, and diuretics.
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How can Pulmonary Edema be Prevented?
Those who are with a high risk of developing pulmonary Edema should follow the doctor’s instructions to keep the condition under control.
- Reduce salt intake that can lead to water retention.
- Try to control blood pressure through diet and exercise
- Lower the cholesterol level to reduce the risk of heart attack
- Control diabetes and reduce body weight
All these can help in the prevention of pulmonary edema caused by congestive heart failure. The HAPE can be prevented by making a gradual ascent while travelling to high altitudes, taking medication before you start your journey and by avoiding excess exertion in your travel.