Pulmonary edema is a health condition caused by fluid accumulation in the lung. The fluid accumulates in the air sacs that line the lung, making breathing difficult.

Most often, heart issues cause pulmonary edema. However, fluids can build up in the lungs for various reasons, including asthma, exposure to specific drugs and toxic substances, injuries to the chest, and exercising at higher elevations.

The sudden onset of pulmonary edema (acute pulmonary edema) is an emergency medical condition that requires immediate medical attention. Edema from pulmonary edema may lead to death. The chances of survival are improved when you are treated promptly. The pulmonary edema treatment differs depending on the cause, but generally, treatment includes oxygen supplementation and medication.

Symptoms of Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary edema signs and symptoms could be noticed suddenly or may develop gradually. The symptoms and signs are based on the type of edema.

Sudden (acute) symptoms of pulmonary edema and signs and

  • Trouble breath (dyspnea) or severe shortness of breath that gets worse with exercise or while lying down
  • The feeling of being in suffocation or drowning gets worse lying down
  • A cough that is characterized by thick sputum that is coloured by blood
  • Sneezing or gasping for air
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Anxiety, restlessness, or an underlying feeling of fear
  • Bluish lips
  • An irregular, rapid heartbeat (palpitations)

Long-term (chronic) lung edema signs and symptoms

  • Breathing difficulty during activities or lying on the floor
  • The feeling of waking up at night is an uneasy feeling or cough, which can be relieved by getting up
  • Shortness of breath more than usual when you’re physically engaged
  • Wheezing
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Inflammation in your lower extremities
  • Fatigue
  • Cough that is worse or more severe

High-altitude pulmonary swelling (HAPE) indications and symptoms

HAPE can be seen in adults and children who go to or train at high altitudes. The symptoms and signs are like those associated with acute pulmonary edema. These may be characterized as:

  • Headache may be the first sign of a problem.
  • Breathing shortness during activities increases to breath shortness during rest.
  • Inability to exercise as you did would
  • Dry cough that starts at the beginning
  • A cough later causes pink, frothy sputum to be produced.
  • An extremely fast heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Weakness
  • Chest pain
  • Low-grade fever

The symptoms and signs of high-altitude pulmonary swelling ( HAPE ) worsen in the evening.

When is the best time to visit a doctor?

Pulmonary edema that develops abruptly (acute pulmonary swelling) can be life-threatening. Contact 911 or seek urgent medical assistance if you suffer from any of these symptoms and signs that are acute:

  • Breathlessness, particularly when it happens suddenly
  • The feeling of being suffocated (dyspnea)
  • Wheezing, bubbling, or gasping sound that you hear when you breathe
  • Pink, frothy sputum that you can feel when you cough
  • Breathing difficulties, as well as lots of sweating
  • A gray or blue hue to your skin
  • Confusion
  • A significant decrease in blood pressure that causes dizziness, lightheadedness, or sweating
  • A sudden increase in symptoms of pulmonary edema

Don’t try to transport yourself to the medical facility. Instead, dial 911 or emergency medical attention and wait for assistance.

Causes of Pulmonary Edema

The reasons for the causes of pulmonary edema differ. The causes of pulmonary edema are classified into two types based on where the problem began.

  • If a heart condition results in pulmonary edema, it’s known as cardiogenic-pulmonary edema. An illness of the heart causes the accumulation of fluid in the lungs most of the time.
  • If pulmonary edema isn’t heart-related, it’s known as noncardiogenic pulmonary edema.
  • An issue may cause the condition with the heart and other heart problems.

Understanding the connection between your lung and your heart could aid in understanding the reasons why pulmonary edema could be a possibility.

How well do your lungs function

The lungs are made up of tiny, elastic air sacs known as alveoli. Every time you breathe, the air sacs absorb oxygen and let out carbon dioxide. Normally, the exchange of gases happens without difficulties.

Sometimes, the alveoli get filled with fluid, not air, blocking oxygen from getting into the bloodstream.

How your heart functions

The heart is comprised of two lower and two upper chambers. The chambers in the upper (the right and left atria) receive blood incoming and then pump it into smaller sections (right and left ventricles). The lower chambers are responsible for pumping blood from the heart.

Normally, blood that has been deoxygenated throughout your body flows into the right atrium and the right ventricle, pumped through massive blood vessels (pulmonary arteries) to your lung. In the lungs, blood produces carbon dioxide and soaks oxygen while it moves through the alveoli.

The oxygen-rich blood flows back into the left atrium via the pulmonary veins. It then flows via the mitral valve to the left ventricle and then quits your heart via the most important blood vessel of the body, the Aorta.

The heart valves ensure that blood is flowing in the right direction. The aortic valve stops the blood from returning to the heart. From the Aorta, blood flows through the rest of your body.

The cause of pulmonary edema in the cardiogenic vein is higher pressures in the heart.

It’s usually the result of a heart problem. If a damaged or over-worked left ventricle doesn’t discharge enough blood that it receives from the lungs, the pressures in your heart increase. The higher pressure forces blood through the blood vessel walls and into the air sacs.

Medical conditions that may cause heart failure and eventually lead to pulmonary edema are:

  • Coronary arterial condition. Over time, the blood vessels which supply blood to the heart muscle may narrow due to deposits of fat (plaques). The slow narrowing of coronary arteries could make the ventricle of your left weak. Sometimes there is a blood clot within one of these narrowed arteries. It blocks the flow of blood and damages a portion of your muscle leading to an attack on your heart. The damaged muscle of your heart may not pump as efficiently as it ought to.
  • Cardiomyopathy. This word refers to damage to the heart muscle. If you suffer from cardiomyopathy, your heart must be more efficient, and pressures increase. The seat might not be able to react to situations that demand it to work more, for example, infections, exercise or an increase in blood pressure. If the left ventricle cannot cope with the demands put on it, the fluid flows into the lungs.
  • Heart valve issues. Narrowing the mitral and aortic valves (stenosis) or valves that leak or aren’t shut properly impacts the flow of blood to the heart. The heart must perform more efficiently, and pressures increase. If valve leakage occurs abruptly, you could be diagnosed with acute and severe pulmonary edema.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension). Untreated or not controlled high blood pressure can cause swelling of the heart.
  • Other heart-related issues. Inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis), congenital heart defects, and irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) can also cause pulmonary edema.
  • Kidney diseases. Because of narrowed kidney vessels (renal arterial artery stenosis) or the buildup of fluid due to kidney disease, high blood pressure may cause pulmonary edema.
  • Chronic health problems. Thyroid disease and an accumulation of iron (hemochromatosis) or protein (amyloidosis) could also cause heart failure or cause lung Edema.

Edema in the lungs that isn’t due to increased pressures within your heart is known as noncardiogenic pulmonary edema.

Causes of noncardiogenic pulmonary swelling can be attributed to:

  • Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). This serious condition is caused by the sudden swollen fluid and blood vessels. Numerous conditions can trigger ARDS, including severe injuries (trauma) and widespread infection (sepsis), pneumonia, and massive bleeding.
  • An adverse drug reaction is also known as an overdose. Many drugs -that include aspirin to illicit substances like cocaine and heroin, can cause pulmonary swelling.
  • Blood clots are found in the lung (pulmonary embolism). If a blood clot is transported from blood vessels within your legs to your lungs, you could suffer from pulmonary edema.
  • Exposure to certain toxic substances. Inhaling toxins or taking in some of the contents of your stomach as your stomach is empty (aspiration) results in an intense irritation to the small airways and alveoli. It results in fluid accumulation.
  • High altitudes. The condition has been observed in skiers, mountain climbers or hikers, and other individuals who go to higher elevations, generally over 8000 meters (about 2.400 meters). High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) typically occurs in those who haven’t yet gotten used to the altitude (which can range from a few days up to one week or more). But those living at altitudes are at risk of developing HAPE without elevation changes if they suffer from a respiratory illness.
  • Afraid of drowning. Inhaling water causes lung fluid to build up that can be treated with prompt medical attention.
  • Negative pressure in pulmonary edema. Pulmonary edema can be caused by a blockage of the upper airway that generates negative pressure on the lungs due to an intense effort to breathe despite the obstruction. After treatment, most people suffering from this kind of pulmonary edema will recover within 24 hours.
  • Conditions of the nervous system or treatments. A type of pulmonary edema known as neurogenic pulmonary swelling can develop following a head injury, seizures, or brain surgery.
  • Inhalation of smoke. Smoke from a fire can cause damage to the membrane that connects the air sacs and the capillaries. It allows fluids to get into the lung.
  • Transfusion-related lung injuries. Blood transfusions may result in a surge of fluid inside the left ventricle, which can cause pulmonary edema.
  • Viral diseases. Pulmonary edema can be caused by viruses like the dengue virus and hantavirus.

Risk factors of Pulmonary Edema

Heart failure and other ailments that cause pressure to rise within the heart can increase the chance of developing pulmonary edema. Heart failure is a risk factor that includes:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
  • Alcohol use
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Coronary arterial artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart valve disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep Apnea

But, certain respiratory conditions and lung damage caused by close drowning, drug smoking, inhalation of smoke, and viral infections and blood clots may increase the chance of developing.

Travelers who visit high-altitude locations above 8000 meters (about 2.400m) tend to develop high-altitude lung swelling (HAPE). It typically affects people who are uncomfortable with the altitude (which could take anywhere between a few days and about a week).

Complications of Pulmonary Edema

The reason determines the cause of the complications.

When pulmonary edema persists, the pressure inside the pulmonary artery could rise (pulmonary hypertension). The heart eventually becomes weak and starts to fail as pressures within the lungs and the heart rise.

These complications could be:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • The legs are swelling, and the feet, as well as the abdomen
  • The buildup of fluids in the membranes that cover your lung (pleural effusion)
  • The swelling and congestion of the liver

It is imperative to treat immediately acute pulmonary edema to prevent the possibility of death.


You could reduce the risk of pulmonary edema by taking care of existing lung or heart ailments and an active way of life.

As an example, you can lower your risk of developing numerous heart issues by taking steps to manage your cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Keep these guidelines in mind to maintain your heart health:

  • A healthy diet rich in fresh fruits, whole grains, vegetables, low-fat dairy or fat-free, and a range of protein sources.
  • Take control of your weight.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol and salt.
  • Manage stress.

Healthcare Professional

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