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Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary edema is the abnormal fluid build-up in the lungs. This fluid buildup makes it difficult to breathe. It can also cause chest tightness, coughing up foam and loose mucus, and wheezing.

Pulmonary edema is life-threatening and requires prompt medical attention. It can arise suddenly or develop gradually, posing serious health risks if left untreated. 

Causes of Pulmonary Edema

Several health conditions and external factors can cause pulmonary edema. This includes heart disease. When the heart is not functioning properly, it can cause a backup of fluid in the lungs. Thus, leading to pulmonary edema. 

Cardiogenic pulmonary edema refers to pulmonary edema caused by a direct issue with the heart. Congestive heart failure is the most common cause of cardiogenic pulmonary edema. In this condition, the left ventricle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands. This causes pressure to build up in other sections of the circulatory system, forcing fluid into the lung’s air sacs and other areas of the body.

Other medical conditions include:

  • Pneumonia
  • ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome)
  • Hypoalbuminemia (low levels of albumin in the blood)
  • Sudden high blood pressure
  • Inhaling toxic substances
  • Lung infections
  • Kidney failure
  • Sepsis

External factors may include:

·      Drug overdose

·      Near drowning

·      Severe trauma

·      High altitude exposure

·      lung damage due to inhalation of toxins

·      Injury

Pulmonary Edema versus Pleural Effusion

Pulmonary edema and pleural effusion are both conditions involving fluid buildup in the chest. However, each affects different parts of the lungs.

·      Pulmonary edema involves fluid buildup within the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs. This impairs the exchange of oxygen.

·      Pleural effusion involves fluid accumulation in the pleural space, the thin layer of fluid between the lungs and the chest wall.

Both conditions can cause breathing difficulties. Both have distinct causes and treatment approaches.

Diagnosing Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary edema is normally diagnosed using a combination of the following:

·      medical history

·      physical examination

·      diagnostic tests

Healthcare practitioners may do the following:

1.  Chest X-ray: A chest X-ray can reveal signs of fluid accumulation in the lungs, such as increased density or “bat-wing” appearance.

2.  Blood Tests: Blood tests assess kidney function, oxygen levels, electrolyte balance, and markers of heart failure.

3.  Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram uses sound waves to create images of the heart. This allows healthcare providers to evaluate its structure and function.

4.  Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): An ECG measures the electrical activity of the heart. This can assist in detecting anomalies related to heart failure or other cardiac diseases.

Pulmonary Edema Treatment

Depending on the cause and severity of the condition, treatment may include one or more of the following medications:

·      Blood pressure medications treat high or low blood pressure linked with pulmonary edema. This includes nitroglycerin or nitroprusside, 

·      Diuretics relieve pressure from excess fluid in the heart and lungs. This includes furosemide (Lasix).

·      Inotropes to improve heart pumping capacity while also maintaining blood pressure. 

·      Morphine to treat shortness of breath and anxiety. 

Preventing Pulmonary Edema

Preventing pulmonary edema starts with managing any underlying medical conditions. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also help reduce the risk of developing pulmonary edema. This includes:

·      Eating a balanced diet

·      regular exercise

·      avoiding tobacco and alcohol

When to seek medical help?

Pulmonary edema can quickly become a life-threatening condition, and prompt treatment is essential for a successful recovery.

Seek medical help right away if you are experiencing any symptoms:

·      difficulty breathing

·      chest pain

·      coughing

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