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How to identify and treat pulmonary edema

Fluid in the lungs is a health problem known scientifically as pulmonary edema, which occurs when the pulmonary alveoli become filled with fluid due to other diseases not treated properly such as heart failure or respiratory infections, for example.

Since excess fluid in the lungs makes breathing difficult and oxygen is reduced in the body, water in the lung can be life-threatening and it is therefore recommended you go to the emergency room quickly when symptoms appear such as difficulty breathing, wheezing or coughing up blood persistently.

Fluid in the lungs has a cure, however, treatment should be started as soon as possible to prevent oxygen levels in the body from falling too much and putting your life at risk.

How to identify and treat pulmonary edema

Main symptoms

Depending on the cause of your pulmonary edema, the symptoms may appear over time or appear suddenly. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing, which worsens when lying down;
  • Feeling you are suffocating or drowning;
  • Intense wheezing when breathing;
  • Coughing with secretions that may contain blood;
  • Severe chest pain;
  • Getting tired very easily;
  • Swelling of your legs or feet.

When more than one of these symptoms occur, it is recommended to call for medical help by calling 911 (US) e 999 (UK), or immediately go to the hospital emergency room, to have an X-ray of your chest done, to confirm the diagnosis and start treatment quickly so you can avoid serious complications that can lead to death.

How to confirm the diagnosis

In most cases, to confirm the diagnosis of pulmonary edema, the doctor observes the symptoms and evaluates your health history. However, in some cases it may be necessary to have tests such as pulmonary auscultation or chest x-ray to confirm the diagnosis.

How to identify and treat pulmonary edema

What can cause pulmonary edema

Pulmonary edema occurs whenever the lungs fill with fluid, making it difficult for air to enter. The most common cases arise when there is a cardiovascular disease, such as coronary heart disease, heart failure or high blood pressure, because the heart can stop working properly, causing a blood accumulation in the lung.

However, there are other situations that can cause the accumulation of fluids such as:

  • Adult respiratory distress syndrome;
  • Climb to altitudes above 2400 meters, such as climbing a mountain;
  • Problems in the nervous system, such as head trauma, subarachnoid haemorrhage or seizure;
  • Infections caused by viruses in the lungs;
  • Inhalation of smoke;
  • Nearly drowning, especially when there was inhalation of water.

The problem of lung water is more frequent in the elderly due to health problems, but it can also happen in young people or even in children with congenital heart diseases.

How is the treatment done

Treatment for water in the lung should be done in hospital inpatient and is usually initiated with the administration of oxygen through a mask to relieve symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, feeling of drowning and wheezing. Thereafter, some remedies may be used to eliminate excess fluid such as:

  • Diuretic remedies, such as furosemide: help eliminate excess fluids from the body through the urine;
  • Heart medication, such as nitroglycerin: relieves pressure on the arteries of the heart, improving its functioning and preventing the accumulation of blood in the lungs;
  • Morphine: It is used to relieve the feeling of intense lack of air or strong chest pain;
  • High blood pressure medication such as Captopril: reduce blood pressure, making it easier for the heart to work and preventing fluid buildup.

Because of the effect of these medications to eliminate excess fluid, the doctor may recommend using a catheter during hospitalization to avoid having to go to the bathroom to urinate all the time. 

In addition to treat pulmonary edema, it is very important to find out the cause and initiate the proper treatment in order to prevent the problem from recurring.

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