The condition wherein accumulation of fluid in lungs causes shortness of breath is known as pulmonary edema or lung congestion. Usually failure of the heart is responsible for pulmonary edema. Heart failure does not mean that the heart stops working completely, but it means that the heart is not pumping as strongly as it should be.
When the heart does not pump with full strength, fluid is pushed into the air spaces (alveoli) in the lungs which interferes normal oxygen movement through the lungs and interrupts absorption of oxygen in bloodstream, resulting in shortness of breath. Fluid accumulation in lungs (congestion) makes it more difficult for the airways to expand as you inhale. So, breathing becomes more difficult. Sometimes, fluid gets collected outside (around) the lungs. It is also an equally serious condition.
Symptoms of Fluid in Lungs
- Shortness of breath
- Gasping for air
- Wet, gurgling sounds in the chest
- Fatigue, weakness
- Wheezing sound with breathing
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Shortness of breath with activity
- Coughing a pinkish or blood-tinged frothy sputum
- Inability to sleep lying flat (need more than 2 pillows)
- Pounding or racing heart rate
- Breathing may completely stop for a few seconds during sleep
- Chest pain or sudden shortness of breath at night waking the patient up
- Fever and other symptoms may occur according to the specific etiology.
Apart from heart disorders, kidney failure, pneumonia (lung infection), pancreatitis, drowning, drug overdose, high altitude sickness and pulmonary embolism (blockage of lung blood vessels due to air bubbles, fat, amniotic fluid (in newborns), or blood clot), etc., can lead to accumulation of fluid in lungs.
Usually, phlegm or mucus produced by the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract accumulates in the lungs. In some cases, lungs get filled with blood or pus. Sometimes, a surgery leads to accumulation of fluid in lungs. Any such condition can give rise to serious situation like lung failure, if not treated promptly. Early recognition of the symptoms of dysfunction of lungs promotes fast recovery. Let us see which heart diseases are likely to lead to fluid filled lungs.
Heart Diseases which may Lead to Fluid in Lungs
- Heart attack (death of heart muscle) or Myocardial infarction
- Persistent high blood pressure
- Thyroid problems (thyroid controls heartbeat and various metabolic processes)
- Endocarditis (infection of the valves)
- Left sided heart failure
- Excessive exposure to toxins, alcohol abuse or excessive intake of cocaine
- Beriberi (Vitamin B1 deficiency)
- Too much liquid intake by a person who has a diseased heart or weak kidneys.
- Arrhythmias (irregularities in heart rhythm)
- Cardiomyopathy (enlarged, balloon-like myocarditis or infection of heart muscle)
- Poorly functioning valves of the heart
- Congenital (present at birth) heart diseases, i.e., atrial and ventricular septal defects such as holes in the walls between heart chambers.
All the above conditions can lead to congestive heart failure wherein body tissues and organs may not get as much blood as they need. Congestive heart failure and fluid filled lungs go hand in hand. Physical examination, symptoms, chest x-rays, blood tests, electrocardiograms, echocardiograms, and angiography help diagnose the condition. When lungs do not work efficiently, blood tests show lower than normal levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide. While treating the underlying cause, treatment should also help remove the fluid in/around the heart and lungs.
Treatment for Fluid in Lungs and Heart Failure
In recent years, more effective medications have been made available to treat fluid filled lungs. Antibiotics help get rid of the infection. Improved quality of pacemakers and implantable defibrillators help improve the function of the heart and lungs. Diuretics are usually prescribed as they help reduce the fluid in lungs. Some drugs improve the pumping capacity of the heart.
Surgery can repair blockage of the coronary arteries, a valve problem, a congenital heart defect, or a too thick pericardium. The option of heart transplant is available if the heart's ability to pump blood is permanently marred. Prompt supply of oxygen or artificial ventilation is a part of the emergency treatment. The treatment should be so designed that the fluid should not again get accumulated in the lungs.
Unhealthy eating habits and stressful lifestyle lead to heart diseases. To prevent fluid in lungs and heart failure, smoking and excessive use of alcohol should be strictly avoided. Weight control is extremely important in this case; because obesity and lack of activity often contribute to congestive heart failure, either directly or indirectly.
Neglecting the symptoms of high blood pressure, diabetes, or coronary artery disease can seriously affect the health of an individual. Those diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure need to control them with proper diet, regular exercise and medications. Years of uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes damage both the heart and blood vessels. Healthy lifestyle promotes healthy heart.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.