Pulmonary edema, what are its symptoms and causes?

Pulmonary edema it is a pathology that consists of the accumulation of fluid in the lungs. This accumulation makes breathing difficult and, therefore, puts life at risk.

In most cases, pulmonary edema is caused by heart problems. However, it can also occur due to trauma, pneumonia (infection in the lungs) or even medication.

When the edema appears suddenly, it's a medical emergency, can be deadly. At other times, it occurs progressively. Even so, it is still an important situation that must be resolved.

In this article we explain what pulmonary edema consists of, its causes and its symptoms.

What is pulmonary edema?

The alveoli are the air pockets that make up the lungs. They are responsible for absorbing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide during respiration. When they are filled with liquid instead of air, this exchange of gases can not be done correctly.

The accumulation of fluid is called pulmonary edema. It usually occurs due to causes related to the heart. In these circumstances, it is called cardiogenic pulmonary edema. It occurs mainly when the left ventricle of the heart weakens.

On the other hand, pulmonary edema it may not be related to the heart (non-cardiogenic edema). It happens, for example, when a person climbs high-altitude areas.

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What are the causes of pulmonary edema?

Cardiogenic pulmonary edema

As we have already mentioned, Cardiogenic pulmonary edema occurs as a result of heart disease. The problems that cause pulmonary edema more frequently are:

  • Alterations of the coronary arteries. They are those that are responsible for the circulation of the heart. They are usually obstructed due to accumulations of fat (atheroma plaques), which causes the heart to weaken. The blood tends to accumulate in the lungs, and this causes liquid to pass into the alveoli.
  • Heart muscle injuries. It is called cardiomyopathy. The same thing happens as in the previous case, when the heart does not beat with enough force, the liquid returns to the lungs.
  • Problems of the heart valves.
  • Hypertension.

Non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema

In this case, the main causes are:

  • High altitudes. When a person climbs high-altitude areas, an increase in pressure may occur due to the vasoconstriction of the pulmonary capillaries. This causes the liquid to pass into the alveoli.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome. It is a disorder in which the lungs fill with fluid and white blood cells. It may be due to trauma or infection.
  • Medicines.
  • For a pulmonary embolism. It occurs when a clot occupies a pulmonary blood vessel and prevents the blood circulating properly.
  • Viral infections.
  • Inhalation of smoke or drowning.

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What are the symptoms?

The symptoms will depend on the cause and the rapidity with which the edema is established. When it occurs acutely, the main symptoms are:

When the edema appears progressively, the symptoms are slightly different:

  • There is also difficulty breathing, both with the effort and at bedtime.
  • The legs can swell.
  • Increase the feeling of fatigue.
  • Cough that appears when you lie down and that is relieved when you sit down.
  • Weight gain.

How can we prevent it?

To try to prevent it, the main thing is to try to avoid a heart problem. It is necessary to control blood pressure, since hypertension is one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Do moderate exercise daily and maintain a proper diet are essential measures. They help control blood pressure levels, and also blood cholesterol. This is important because cholesterol is related to the pathologies of the coronary arteries.

On the other hand, you have to avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. In addition, it is recommended to maintain our weight in a healthy way. And, of course, you have to try to control stress.

In conclusion

If you feel shortness of breath, fatigue or any of the symptoms mentioned, do not hesitate to go urgently to a doctor. Pulmonary edema is a delicate situation that puts your health at risk.

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