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Pulmonary edema

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Accumulation of fluid in the lungs causing shortness of breath is called pulmonary edema. This condition is usually caused by heart ailments and can prove to be a life-treating the condition.


Pulmonary edema mostly occurs due to heart ailments. There  are other conditions that can lead to fluid accumulation in the lungs. Thus, the causes are divided into cardiogenic and non cardiac causes.

Cardiogenic Causes

One of the main causes includes congestive heart failure. In this condition, the left ventricle is unable to pump blood coming from the lungs. Thus, leading to pressure on the left atrium, leading to fluid accumulation in the veins and arteries. The fluid enters the air sacs present in the lungs, leading to breathing difficulties.

Other heart conditions include:

Noncardiac Problems

The noncardiac causes of fluid accumulation in the lungs include:

Symptoms of Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary edema can occur as an acute condition. Thus, the symptoms may occur suddenly and include:

  • A breathing problem
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Coughing blood tinged frothy  sputum
  • Sweating
  • Skin turns pale
  • Bluish lips or nails


The diagnosis of pulmonary edema is made by physical examination. The doctor may hear crackles in a deep breath, abnormal heart sounds, tachycardia or tachypnea on auscultation. Other tests include:


The main treatment for pulmonary edema is providing adequate oxygen. This can be provided with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or variable positive airway pressure (VPAP). Medications given include diuretics, nitroglycerin, morphine, blood pressure drugs, etc. In serious condition, the patient may be kept on artificial respirators.


The prognosis depends on the severity of the condition as well as the overall health of the patient. The condition is treatable, but requires long term medical care. If untreated, it can prove to be fatal.

You should maintain a healthy diet, take prescribed medications without fail and carry out regular exercises to prevent pulmonary edema. Speak to your doctor about any kind of water retention in the body. In case one suffers from severe shortness of breath, call the emergency services immediately

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: February 27, 2015

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