Understanding Pulmonary Edema or Fluid around the Lungs


The problem of fluid around the lungs which makes breathing difficult is called pulmonary edema. This health issue is often linked to some heart trouble. However, it is important to note that other issues such as living or working out in high elevations, some medicines and pneumonia have also been found to lead to fluid accumulation around the lungs. When the fluid build-up happens rapidly it is an emergency situation and can prove fatal but if diagnosed appropriately in general it is a treatable problem.


The lung takes in oxygen and releases carbon dioxide when it is functioning properly to help the body by providing the needed energy booster. Sometimes though instead of air, fluid seeps into the lungs. This can happen because of problems with the way the heart is functioning and this is called cardiac pulmonary edema. Non-cardiac pulmonary edema refers to those conditions where the fluid around the lungs is cause by conditions such as a lung infection, kidney disease, smoke inhalation or even a drug reaction.


It is important to educate ourselves about the symptoms or indications of this problem to take prompt medical action. In cases where the fluid build-up happens in a short time, a patient is likely to feel extreme difficulty in breathing and feel a sensation of suffocating. The feeling of drowning is palpable as the person will be wheezing and gasping for breath. As with all cases of breathing difficulties, there will be a growing feeling of anxiety. Heavy sweating, some chest pain and coughing up froth with traces of blood are all signs of a fluid increase around the lungs. There may also be an irregular heartbeat and general loss of color.


When there is a heart failure which triggers pulmonary edema the signs tend to build up slowly. You are likely to notice that your breathing pattern changes – so even your usual amount of exercise may cause above average shortness of breath. There may be a sensation of exerting yourself while breathing and you may even be woken up by the sensation of shortness of breath. There is a pattern of accelerated weight gain because of the fluid accumulation also. Fatigue, exhaustion, loss of appetite, headache, cough and insomnia are also likely to be symptoms of this slow fluid build-up around the lungs.


The course of the treatment is likely to depend on what has cause the fluid to seep into the lung. It is important to address the underlying issue while providing relief for the breathing trouble, as this will help in eliminating the problem. If left untreated, there can be further complications such as fluid retention in other parts of the body also.


The patient’s oral history, physical examination and a chest x-ray are likely to be used for diagnosing acute pulmonary edema as the treatment has to be swift. Electrocardiography, echocardiography and catheterization are likely to be used for assessing the cause of fluids around the lungs if the symptoms are noticed over time. This will help to isolate the exact area of difficulty and to focus treatment accordingly.


Oxygen is used to counter the breathing difficulty in all cases of pulmonary edema. The actual choice of medicine will depend on the exact diagnosis and the general condition of the patient in terms of age, weight and overall state of health.


Keeping careful track of your weight, maintaining a good diet and avoiding high sodium intake, monitoring blood pressure and ensuring that the body gets adequate rest are good ways to avoid the possibility of a fluid build-up. A doctor is likely to advice a patient to watch out for these details if there is a family history of heart or lung difficulties.