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Fluid in the Lungs After a Surgery

Accumulation of fluid in the lungs -- also called pulmonary edema -- is a complication after a surgery that may or may not be fatal, depending on the type of surgical procedure and the severity of the fluid accumulation. Undermentioned are the symptoms, causes, and precautionary measures for the same.
Dr. Sumaiya Khan
Last Updated: Apr 7, 2018
Surgery is often taken as a last resort to deal with a condition that does not respond to antibiotics or any other kind of conservative treatment. However, sometimes there can be many untoward complications that can occur as a result of a surgical procedure, and one of the most important complications is the development of fluid in the lungs. In fact, this fluid accumulation in the air sacs makes it difficult to breathe, leading to respiratory complications.

A small amount of fluid in the lungs after surgical procedures does not cause much disturbances, but if there is a large amount of fluid buildup, then it needs to be dealt with on a priority basis, as the severe consequences are respiratory failure, cardiac arrest due to hypoxia, or even death.

Symptoms You May Notice

• Breathing troubles like shortness of breath, gasping, wheezing
• Anxiety or uneasiness
• Sweating profusely
• Palpitations
• Chest pain (when fluid in the lungs is responsible for cardiac problems)
• Coughing up blood (pink and frothy sputum seen)


Heart Surgery

Occurrence of fluid collection in the lungs after a heart surgery is a common phenomenon. This is quite an expected complication, especially after a heart valve replacement surgery, and is observed in many patients. In fact, the accumulation of fluid in the lungs occurs more as a reaction to the surgery. It is not considered to be a serious or major complication at all. This is the reason why patients, who have undergone a valvular replacement surgery often have a tube inserted into their windpipe, so that the mucus and fluids that accumulate in the lungs can be drained out.

Bypass Surgery

Fluid collection is also seen in patients, who have undergone a bypass surgery. However, the accumulation of fluid occurs a few weeks after the operation. Hence, this condition calls for treatment to be initiated as soon as possible, as this greatly increases the person's chances of contracting pneumonia, which could prove to be a fatal complication.

Surgery under General Anesthesia

Fluid collection in the lungs is actually considered as a postoperative complication of surgical procedures. In fact, respiratory complications occur as a post-surgery complexity, and it is seen that almost 15% of the surgeries that are performed under general anesthesia account for breathing trouble.


There are certain general precautions which can be taken to prevent the occurrence of fluid in the lungs after an open heart surgery or any other major surgical procedure.

• After any surgical procedure, it is required that you keep the lungs active and exercise them during the recovery period. This can be done by breathing in air and holding it for some time, and then letting it out. This helps in keeping the airway clear and maintaining the tidal volume, thus, preventing the complication of developing fluid in the lungs. Also, the patient is asked to use an incentive spirometer, which is a device that helps the person to see how deeply he is breathing.

• Try to get back to normal movement and activity after a surgery, as soon as possible. This will keep the muscles in the body active, thus preventing fluid from accumulating in the lungs.

• If your immunity is low, then your doctor will probably put you on an antibiotic cover to prevent your chances of contracting pneumonia.

Thus, if there is an accumulation of fluid in the lungs as soon as the surgery is done, more often than not, the doctor takes prompt measures to curb it. However, if this complication occurs after a considerable amount of time post surgery, then it is best to rush to the doctor and treat this condition immediately.

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.