Pulmonary Edema: What is It?
What is Pulmonary Edema? Pulmonary Edema is a buildup of fluid in the lungs. It causes difficulty to breathe (respiratory failure).
When we breathe, our lungs fill with air, but if we have pulmonary edema, these organs fill with fluid. This condition may be fatal in some cases.
Pulmonary edema can be classified into:
- Acute pulmonary edema: sudden onset, which requires immediate attention
- Chronic pulmonary edema: it occurs more slowly over time
What is Cardiogenic Pulmonary Edema?
When pulmonary edema is a result of a direct problem with the heart it is subdivided into cardiogenic pulmonary edema. When the cause of pulmonary edema is not due to poor heart function it is called noncardiogenic.
As we mentioned above, congestive heart failure is a condition which causes pulmonary edema. It occurs when the left ventricle cannot pump out enough blood to the body. This, in turn, causes a buildup of pressure in other parts of the circulatory system. This pressure forces fluid into the lungs and other parts of our bodies.
Pulmonary Edema: Causes
Pulmonary edema is a condition generally caused by congestive heart failure or noncardiogenic reasons.
When not enough oxygen reaches our lungs, since they fill with fluid, 2 problems may occur:
- Our body is unable to get rid of carbon dioxide properly.
- Our bloodstream is unable to get enough oxygen.
Pulmonary edema is generally caused by:
- Sepsis, or blood infection
- Drug overdose,
- A reaction to some medication
- Organ failure (which causes fluid accumulation) like congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, or kidney failure
- Exposure to some chemicals
- Other less common causes include direct injury to the lungs, brain injuries (for example brain bleeding, head injury, stroke, brain surgery, seizure, tumor, etc.)
Pulmonary Edema: Symptoms
Symptoms of pulmonary edema include:
- Trouble breathing with a lost of sweating
- Sudden shortness of breath
- Drowning feeling
- Coughing up pink, frothy spit
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, weakness, which signal a drop in blood pressure
- Cold and clammy skin which looks gray or blue
- Uneven and rapid heartbeat (palpitations)
Chronic pulmonary edema symptoms include:
- Swelling in legs and feet
- Rapid weight gain, which signals a fluid buildup
- Breathing problems, especially when lying down
- Waking up at night with a breathless feeling
Pulmonary Edema and Pneumonia
Occasionally, pulmonary edema may overlap with pneumonia, but these 2 conditions are different, although they may be difficult to distinguish. Pneumonia is an infection; it occurs as a complication of a respiratory infection, such as the flu.
How Is Pulmonary Edema Diagnosed?
When you visit a doctor, you will undergo a physical exam. With a stethoscope your doctor will listen to your lungs for crackles and rapid breathing, and to your heart for abnormal rhythms.
Your doctor may also request blood tests to determine blood oxygen levels, and also require tests to see electrolyte levels, kidney and liver function, blood counts and blood markers of heart failure.
Some exams that you will need to determine the condition of your heart include:
- Ultrasound of the heart
- Chest X-ray
- CT Scan of the chest
Pulmonary Edema: Treatment
Since pulmonary edema is a serious condition, it requires quick treatment. Oxygen is integral: your healthcare team will provide an oxygen mask, nasal cannula, or positive pressure mask.
If there is an underlying cause, then you will be prescribed preload reducers, afterload reducer, heart medications or morphine, depending on the primary cause.
If your case is severe, you may need intensive or critical care. When breathing is too difficult, a machine that helps the patient breathe will be necessary. This will help get more air into your lungs.
Can Pulmonary Edema Be Prevented?
Always consult your doctor on how to prevent pulmonary edema if you have a condition that may cause it.
If you have congestive heart failure, your doctor may recommend that you follow a healthy balanced diet, and maintain a healthy weight to reduce the risk of future episodes of pulmonary edema.
If pulmonary edema is altitude-induced, it may be minimized by making a gradual ascent. Your doctor may also advise taking medications before travelling, and avoiding excess exertion in high altitudes.
Some tips to improve your heart health are:
- Quit smoking: tobacco increases the risk of heart disease, lung disease, circulatory problems, etc.
- Reduce salt intake: excess salt leads to water retention, which increases heart work.
- Lower cholesterol levels: high cholesterol leads to fatty deposits in the arteries. This increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and pulmonary edema.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet: although your diet may vary according to your needs and the severity of your condition, your doctor may recommend that you consume fresh fruits and green vegetables, lean protein from eggs, chicken, fish, legumes, nuts and tofu.
- You may also need to implement sources of vitamin D, which is found in eggs, orange juice, meat, milk, and fortified cereal. Potassium and magnesium may also be recommended, these nutrients are found in leafy vegetables, seeds, bananas, and apricots.
- Get the pneumonia and flu vaccine, especially if you have heart problems or if you are an older adult.
- Remain on diuretics after a pulmonary edema episode to prevent recurrence.
- Visit your doctor regularly.
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Pulmonary Edema
There are some lifestyle changes you can implement to prevent this condition from worsening.
- Give up Smoking: as we said before, smoking can worsen the condition of pulmonary edema. You may also avoid second-hand smoke since it may flare up the symptoms.
- Avoid allergens present in the environment since these can irritate your lungs.
- Try to avoid going outside when it is too cold or too hot, this can also irritate your lungs.
- Avoid consuming alcohol and recreational drugs (alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and heroine can worsen the symptoms of pulmonary edema).
- Give up these substances if you have been diagnosed with pulmonary edema.
- Avoid strenuous physical activities. Get short breaks after every hour to give rest to the respiratory system. Consult your doctor about the best exercise options for you.