Pulmonary edema

Pulmonary edema is a condition in which excess fluid collects in the air sacs of the lungs. This fluid makes it very difficult to breathe and can lead to serious complications. In many cases, pulmonary edema is caused by heart problems, but there can be other issues behind this condition, such as medication, pneumonia, being exposed to some specific toxins and poisons, and even living and exercising in areas of high elevation. Unlike some conditions, pulmonary edema develops very rapidly, and it requires immediate medical care. If you are treated right away, the outlook is very good, but if you do not seek medication attention, pulmonary edema can prove fatal. The treatment varies depending on what caused the condition, but in most cases, it includes medication and perhaps even supplemental oxygen.

Pulmonary edema is caused when the small air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli, fill with fluid instead of with oxygen. This fluid can come from several different things, but most are related to the heart. Congestive heart failure is the most common cause of the fluid. When the heart isn’t strong enough to pump out the blood it receives from the lungs, this fluid is pushed back into the lungs and ends up in the air sacs. Other conditions that may cause fluid in the lungs include lung infections, smoke inhalation, kidney disease, exposure to some toxins, a reaction to medication, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and even exposure to high altitudes.

The symptoms of pulmonary edema may develop at different speeds depending on what the underlying cause of it is. Symptoms that develop over time include shortness of breath, a loss of appetite, fatigue, and difficulty breathing when lying down. Often, you may wake up at night feeling out of breathe but feel better after sitting up. Rapid weight gain can also occur due to congestive heart failure.

There are other symptoms that can occur suddenly, and they include wheezing, extreme difficulty breathing, feeling like you’re suffocating, anxiety, having chest pain, heart palpitations, coughing up frothy spittle that may or may not be spotted with blood, and excessive sweating. If you’re living at a high altitude, you may also experience coughing, a shortness of breath, insomnia, fluid retention, and headaches.

These symptoms can all be alarming, but there are several that acute signs that indicate a serious health risk. If you have trouble breathing, a wheezing when you breathe, pink spittle, a blue/gray look to your skin, or a major drop in your blood pressure, you should seek medical attention right away. The same goes if your pulmonary edema symptoms take a sudden turn for the worst. Because you could possibly pass out from difficulty breathing, do not drive to the hospital yourself. Instead, have someone else drive you or call for emergency medical assistance.

Complications that can arise from pulmonary edema include swelling in the legs and abdomen, swelling and congestion in the liver, and fluid building up in the membranes around the lungs.

As far as treatment goes, the first step is to immediately get supplemental oxygen. This helps breathing and can ease the symptoms. Following this, doctors may do several things. First, they may give you one of several different medications, including medication to clear the fluid in the lungs, help you breathe, and provide relief to your lungs and heart. They may also put you on blood pressure medication if your blood pressure is too high or too low. For those dealing with high altitude pulmonary edema, taking oxygen and descending several thousand feet should immediately clear up the symptoms. In some cases, a rescue helicopter may be necessary if the symptoms are too strong.

Last updated on Dec 31st, 2009 and filed under Respiratory Diseases. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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