Font Size

Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary Edema Overview

Pulmonary edema literally means an excess collection of watery fluid in the lungs. (pulmonary=lung +edema=excess fluid). However, the lung is a complex organ, and there are many causes of this excess fluid accumulation. Regardless of the cause, fluid makes it difficult for the lungs to function (to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide with cells in the bloodstream).

Air enters the lungs through the mouth and nose, traveling through the trachea (windpipe) into the bronchial tubes. These tubes branch into progressively smaller segments until they reach blind sacs called alveoli. Here, air is separated from red blood cells in the capillary blood vessels by the microscopically thin walls of the alveolus and the equally thin wall of the blood vessels. The walls are so thin that oxygen molecules can leave air and transfer onto the hemoglobin molecule in the red blood cell, in exchange for a carbon dioxide molecule. This allows oxygen to be carried to the body to be used for aerobic metabolism and also allows the waste product, carbon dioxide, to be removed from the body.

If excess fluid enters the alveolus or if fluid builds up in the space between the alveolar wall and the capillary wall, the oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules have a greater distance to travel and may not be able to be transferred between the lung and bloodstream. This lack of oxygen in the bloodstream causes the primary symptom of pulmonary edema, which is shortness of breath.

Picture of the Lungs
Picture of the Lungs
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/17/2017

Must Read Articles Related to Pulmonary Edema

Acute Kidney Failure
Acute Kidney Failure Kidney failure, or the ability of the kidneys to filter water and waste, is caused by
  • prerenal,
  • postrenal, or
  • renal problems with the ki...
learn more >>
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a severe lung condition caused by learn more >>

Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart that can be caused by a variety of other diseases, conditions, medications, and heredity. Cardiomyopathy causes can ...learn more >>

Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Pulmonary Edema:

Pulmonary Edema - Causes

What caused your pulmonary edema?

Pulmonary Edema - Symptoms

What were the symptoms of your pulmonary edema?

Pulmonary Edema - Treatment

What was the treatment for your pulmonary edema?

Pulmonary Edema - Prevention

What prevention measures do you use to avoid getting a pulmonary edema?

Edema Treatment

Self Care at Home

Compression stockings can be helpful by increasing the resistance to fluid leaking out of the vessels. These can be purchased in any medical supply store, and are particularly useful for peripheral edema. Body positioning can also be helpful for both peripheral and pulmonary edema to ease symptoms. For example, elevating the head with pillows in bed may benefit someone with pulmonary edema, while elevating the legs may minimize ankle and/or leg edema.

Medical Dictionary