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Pulmonary Edema

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Pulmonary edema definition and facts

  • Pulmonary edema is typically caused by filling of alveoli in the lungs by fluid leaking out of the blood.
  • Pulmonary edema may be caused by a number of cardiac or non-cardiac conditions.
  • Breathing difficulty is the main manifestation of pulmonary edema.
  • Treatment of the underlying cause of pulmonary edema is an essential step in the management of pulmonary edema.

What is pulmonary edema?

Edema, in general, means swelling. This typically occurs when fluid from inside blood vessels seeps outside the blood vessel into the surrounding tissues, causing swelling. This can happen either because of too much pressure in the blood vessels or not enough proteins in the bloodstream to hold on to the fluid in the plasma (the part of the blood that does not contain any blood cells).

Pulmonary edema is the term used when edema happens in the lungs. The immediate area outside of the small blood vessels in the lungs is occupied by very tiny air sacs called the alveoli. This is where oxygen from the air is picked up by the blood passing by, and carbon dioxide in the blood is passed into the alveoli to be exhaled out. Alveoli normally have a thin wall that allows for this air exchange, and fluids are usually kept out of the alveoli unless these walls lose their integrity.

Picture of the alveoli and lung
Picture of the alveoli and lung

Pulmonary edema occurs when the alveoli fill up with excess fluid seeped out of the blood vessels in the lung instead of air. This can cause problems with the exchange of gas (oxygen and carbon dioxide), resulting in breathing difficulty and poor oxygenation of blood. Sometimes, this can be referred to as "water in the lungs" when describing the condition to patients.

Pulmonary edema can be caused by many different factors. It can be related to heart failure, called cardiogenic pulmonary edema, or related to other causes, referred to as non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema.

What are the symptoms of pulmonary edema?

The most common symptom of pulmonary edema is shortness of breath or breathlessness. This may be of gradual onset if the process slowly develops, or it can have a sudden onset in the case of acute pulmonary edema.

Other common symptoms may include easy fatigue, more rapidly developing shortness of breath than normal with usual activity (dyspnea on exertion), rapid breathing (tachypnea), dizziness, or weakness.

Low blood oxygen level (hypoxia) may be detected in patients with pulmonary edema. Furthermore, upon examination of the lungs with a stethoscope, the doctor may listen for abnormal lung sounds, such as rales or crackles (discontinuous short bubbling sounds corresponding to the splashing of the fluid in the alveoli during breathing).

What are the risk factors?

The risk factors for pulmonary edema are essentially the underlying causes of the condition. There isn't any specific risk factor for pulmonary edema other than risk factors for the causative conditions.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/2/2017

Source: MedicineNet.com
http://www.medicinenet.com/pulmonary_edema/article.htm

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