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Pulmonary Edema


Pulmonary edema is a buildup of fluid in the alveoli (air sacs) of your lungs. This may make it hard for you to breathe. Pulmonary edema may be life-threatening if your body is not able to get the oxygen it needs.

The Lungs


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Keep the head of your bed raised to help you breathe easier. You can also raise your head and shoulders up on pillows or rest in a reclining chair. If you feel short of breath, let healthcare providers know right away.


  • Diuretics: This medicine is given to remove excess fluid from around your lungs and decrease your blood pressure. You may urinate more often when you take this medicine.
  • Heart medicine: These medicines may be given to make your heartbeat stronger or more regular, or to lower your blood pressure.
  • Vasodilators: Vasodilators may improve blood flow by making the blood vessels in your heart and lungs wider. This may decrease the pressure in your blood vessels and improve your symptoms.
  • Morphine: This medicine helps decrease your pain. It also may help you breathe easier. Morphine helps tiny blood vessels in your lungs open wider. This lets your blood pick up more oxygen, and your breathing may become easier.


  • Heart monitor: This is also called an ECG or EKG. Sticky pads placed on your skin record your heart's electrical activity.
  • A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. A cord with a clip or sticky strip is placed on your finger, ear, or toe. The other end of the cord is hooked to a machine.
  • Pulmonary artery catheter: This is a balloon-tipped catheter (thin tube) inserted through a vein in your neck or groin. The pulmonary artery (PA) catheter goes into the right side of your heart and continues to your pulmonary artery. The balloon is inflated to wedge the catheter in place. The PA catheter has a device in it that measures the pressure in your heart and lungs. The catheter is attached to a monitor that shows the pressure measurements. The measurements can also show healthcare providers how your heart responds to certain heart medicines.
  • Intake and output may be measured. Healthcare providers will keep track of the amount of liquid you are getting. They also may need to know how much you are urinating. Ask healthcare providers if they need to measure or collect your urine.
  • Weight: You may be weighed each day. Healthcare providers compare your weight from day to day to record how much body fluid you have. You can become dehydrated if you lose too much. You can have shortness of breath or swelling in your legs if you retain too much.


  • Blood tests: A sample of your blood may be sent to the lab for tests. These may help find the cause of your symptoms. They may also be used to make sure organs, such as your kidneys, are working correctly.
  • Blood gases: This is also called an arterial blood gas, or ABG. Blood is taken from an artery (blood vessel) in your wrist, arm, or groin. Your blood is tested for the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in it. The results can tell healthcare providers how well your lungs are working.
  • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your lungs and heart. Healthcare providers use it to look for signs of a lung infection or other damage.
  • Echocardiogram: This is a type of ultrasound done to show the size and shape of your heart. Healthcare providers may check for problems with your heart valves and signs of heart failure. This may be done to find the cause of your pulmonary edema.


  • Oxygen: This may help you breathe better and decrease the pressure in your lungs. You may get oxygen through a plastic mask or nasal cannula. A nasal cannula is a pair of short, thin tubes that are placed inside your nostrils.
  • Noninvasive positive-pressure ventilation (NPPV): This is a machine that helps your lungs fill with air through a mask or a mouthpiece, and helps you breathe better. If a mask is used, it may go over your nose and mouth, or just your nose. Extra oxygen may also be given to you through the machine.
  • Ventilator: This is a machine that can breathe for you if you cannot breathe well on your own. You may have an endotracheal (ET) tube in your mouth or nose. The ET tube is hooked to the ventilator. The ventilator can also give oxygen to you.


  • The levels of potassium in your blood may change and lead to abnormal heartbeats. Your heart may beat too quickly or too slowly. If you need an ET tube and ventilator to breathe, your throat may be injured when the ET tube is put in. You may also get a lung or sinus infection and your heartbeat may become irregular.
  • Without treatment, your symptoms may get worse. You may become very tired from a lack of oxygen. You could go into a coma. A coma is when you are not conscious, and cannot be woken. Your heart may not pump as it should, and your body may not get the oxygen it needs to function. If left untreated, pulmonary edema may be life-threatening.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Pulmonary Edema (Inpatient Care)

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IBM Watson Micromedex

Mayo Clinic Reference

Further information

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