Please be aware that some programs and video content are temporarily unavailable, as the CEMM transitions to a new website. This content will be available soon but if you have any questions or concerns please contact us here

Pulmonary Edema


Dr. Flemings
Pulmonary edema is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the lungs, which can lead to shortness of breath. Dr. Patel, what else can you tell us about pulmonary edema?

Dr. Patel
Well, Dr. Flemings, pulmonary edema is often caused by congestive heart failure. When the heart is not able to pump efficiently, blood can back up into the veins that carry blood through the lungs. As the pressure in these blood vessels increases, fluid is pushed into the alveoli in the lungs. This fluid reduces normal oxygen movement through the lungs. These two factors combine to cause shortness of breath.

Other causes of pulmonary edema include:

  • Certain medications
  • High altitude exposure
  • Kidney failure
  • Narrowed arteries that bring blood to the kidneys
  • Lung damage caused by poisonous gas or severe infection, and
  • Major injury

In addition to shortness of breath, other symptoms of pulmonary edema can include:

  • Coughing up blood or bloody froth
  • Difficulty breathing when lying down
  • Feeling of "air hunger" or "drowning"
  • Grunting, gurgling, or wheezing sounds with breathing, and
  • Problems speaking in full sentences because of shortness of breath

Pulmonary edema is almost always treated in the emergency room or hospital. Oxygen is given through a mask or nasal prongs, or in severe cases, a breathing tube may be placed in the trachea and connected to a ventilator. Diuretics are medications that can help remove excess fluid in the body. Other medications may be used to treat the underlying cause.