Pulmonary Edema Overview
Pulmonary Edema occurs when there is extra fluid in the lungs, which usually collects in the air sacs. This condition makes it very difficult to breathe. Pulmonary edema can occur for a variety of reasons, but usually happens from problems with the heart, or pneumonia. This condition can happen very fast and must be treated immediately. There are three types of pulmonary edema, which include: sudden, chronic, or high-altitude.
Pulmonary Edema Symptoms
The symptoms for the three types of pulmonary edema are different for each different type. The first type is sudden, otherwise known as acute, pulmonary edma. These symptoms are shortness of breath, wheezing, gasping for breath, the feeling of suffocation even if you are lying down, anxiety, cough, rapid and irregular heartbeat, or cold and clammy skin.
The next type is called long-term, or chronic, pulmonary edema. This is characterized by shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, wheezing, the inability to sleep due to coughing or the feeling of breathlessness, fatigue (likely due to the lack of quality rest), swelling in lower extremities, or rapid weight gain.
The last type is called high-altitude pulmonary edema or HAPE. HAPE occurs when people are travelling or exercise at high altitudes. You may experience: shortness of breath, chest discomfort, heart palpitations, coughing, difficulty walking uphill, fatigue, fever, or headaches.
You will want to schedule a visit with your physician if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, as pulmonary edema can happen very fast and needs to be treated immediately. You will likely need someone to drive you to this appointment.
Pulmonary Edema Causes
One of the causes of pulmonary edema is from the increased pressures in the heart. This usually happens when there is heart disease, or the heart is overworked and not able to produce enough blood. When this happens, there is high pressure in the heart and then through the veins and capillaries of the lungs.
Acute respiratory distress syndrome occurs when your lungs are full of fluid and inflammatory white bloods cells. This can be caused by trauma, sepsis, pneumonia, or severe bleeding.
High altitudes may be the cause of pulmonary edema, especially in cases where HAPE is the reason. This usually happens in mountain climbers or people that travel to places with a high elevation. This usually happens if exercise or activity begins too soon; before they are acclimated.
Other causes include adverse drug reactions, nervous system conditions, pulmonary embolism, smoke inhalation, near drowning, exposure to certain toxins, viral infections, or negative pressure pulmonary edema.
Pulmonary Edema Complications
The main complication with pulmonary edema is that it can also raise pressure in the pulmonary artery, which will eventually lead to the right ventricle of the heart becoming weak and will eventually fail. If this happens, there will also be complications in the lower extremities with swelling, congestion and swelling of the liver, or pleural effusion. Pulmonary edema can be deadly if it is left untreated.
Pulmonary Edema Prevention
An unhealthy heart can be the leading cause of pulmonary edema. You should be sure to control your blood pressure, by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, stress-level and weight. Lifestyle changes may be necessary too. You may need to make decision such as: eating a heart healthy diet, limiting salt, exercising regularly, keep blood cholesterol down. If you currently smoke, then you will need to quit smoking. If you have not been successful in quitting, then speak with your pulmonologist about some techniques and a plan to quit.
If you are planning to travel or participate in any strenuous activities, then you will want to be sure to give your time to adjust to the new environment. Do not begin exercising in the first day of the new environment. Your physician may choose to prescribe you medication to prevent HAPE. Take this for one day before your trip and continue for five days after you have arrived.
Pulmonary Edema Diagnosis
Pulmonary edema requires a prompt diagnosis and treatment. Your physician will begin by completing a physical exam and will ask you about your symptoms. Your physician may also recommend an electrocardiogram and a chest x-ray. From here, your physician may also need a variety of other tests to give a proper diagnosis. A pulse oximetry will be attached to your finger to get proper oxygen readings on your blood. Blood tests, when taken from an artery in your wrist, can see the amount of oxygen, carbon dioxide, or tests of other organs. There are also many tests on the heart that may be completed to get the proper diagnosis.
Pulmonary Edema Treatment
Treatment must be done in a timely manner. Your physician will begin treatment by administering oxygen in order to relieve some symptoms. Your physician will monitor your closely to see if you need to be moved to a machine that will help with your breathing. You may also need to take one of the following medications to help the root of the problem.
Diuretics may help to reduce the amount of liquid that is forming around the lungs. Morphine may be used to help shortness of breath or anxiety. If the cause of pulmonary edema is from heart problems, then you may need to take blood pressure medications to lower your blood pressure.
If your symptoms are a result of travelling to high in altitude, then you will want to begin your descent as soon as possible, within reason. Returning to a lower altitude will help to end symptoms almost immediately. If you are participating in activities in the high altitude, then you should end the physical activity and keep warm. When you become cold with these symptoms, then you will likely get worse. If your condition is severe and you are not able to travel on foot and you do not have a vehicle, then you may require rescue assistance. When you are in a hospital when you remove yourself from this situation, they will begin to administer oxygen. Oxygen and lower elevation should cure this type of pulmonary edema, but there may be a few other medications prescribed.