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Symptoms of Fluid in Lungs

Congestive heart failure is one of the common contributing factors for pulmonary edema, which is a medical condition that is characterized by the presence of fluid inside the lungs. This HealthHearty write-up lists out the causes and symptoms of fluid in the lungs.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Jan 27, 2018
Pulmonary edema refers to a medical condition in which fluid is pushed into alveolar sacs, which are tiny air sacs in the lungs wherein the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place. As a result of the accumulation of fluid within the lungs, one's ability to breathe is adversely affected. More often than not, pulmonary edema is caused due to congestive heart failure, a heart condition wherein the heart is unable to pump sufficient amount of blood throughout the body. Pulmonary edema should not be mistaken for pleural effusion, which in turn is a condition where fluid accumulates around the lungs. The following sections provide information on the causes and symptoms of fluid in the lungs.
Symptoms of Pulmonary Edema
When fluid suddenly builds up in the lungs, one is diagnosed with acute pulmonary edema. This is a serious medical condition that can prove to be life-threatening in the absence of treatment. The symptoms include:
Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
Dyspnea on exertion
Orthopnea (shortness of breath while lying down)
Restlessness or anxiety
Feeling of suffocation
Rapid breathing
Gurgling sounds while breathing
Air hunger or gasping for breath
Blood-tinged sputum
Rapid, irregular heartbeat
Weakness or fatigue
Pale skin
Excessive sweating
Chest pain (if pulmonary edema is caused by a heart problem)
Hikers or skiers are susceptible to high-altitude pulmonary edema, which usually occurs above 8,000 feet. This condition might be characterized by symptoms such as dyspnea after exertion. At times, shortness of breath might be experienced while resting. Cough, headache, fever, palpitations, difficulty moving uphill, blood-tinged frothy sputum, or chest pain are other symptoms that might be experienced.
In case of chronic pulmonary edema, the affected individual might develop swelling due to fluid retention in the extremities. This usually occurs in case of individuals affected by congestive heart failure. Also, the patient might wake up at night due to the sensation of breathlessness. The sensation usually resolves by changing from lying to sitting position. Also, dyspnea, wheezing, and fatigue are also experienced.
Pulmonary Edema and Heart Failure
The human heart is a muscular organ that comprises four chambers. The upper chambers are referred to as right atrium and left atrium, whereas the lower chambers are called right ventricle and left ventricle. While the atria receive blood, the function of pumping blood to the other parts of the body is performed by the left ventricle. Let's find out how the heart works.
The deoxygenated blood moves into the right atrium. Thereafter, it moves through the tricuspid valve into the right ventricle. From there, it is pumped through the pulmonary arteries to the lungs, where it gets oxygenated. The pulmonary veins carry the oxygenated blood to the left atrium. The mitral valve located between the left atrium and left ventricle opens to allow the blood to pass to the left ventricle. The valve closes to prevent the backflow of blood into the left atrium. The oxygenated blood is then carried by the aorta to different parts of the body.
If the left ventricle is unable to pump blood properly due to damage to the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), coronary artery disease (hardening or narrowing of the arteries due to cholesterol deposits), or the backflow of blood into the left atrium due to a valve defect, the left atrium can come under pressure. As a result, fluid may back up in the lungs. Thereafter, the alveolar sacs may fill up with blood. This has an adverse effect on the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which in turn leads to shortness of breath.
Besides the cardiogenic factors, pulmonary edema could also be attributed to non-cardiogenic conditions such as exposure or inhalation of toxins, acute respiratory distress syndrome, respiratory infections, pulmonary embolism, adverse reaction to certain drugs, lung injury, neurogenic pulmonary edema, or when one nearly drowns.
On a concluding note, pulmonary edema could be a sign of congestive heart failure or other serious medical conditions. Therefore, medical assistance must be sought by those who experience the aforementioned symptoms. Chest X-rays, pulse oximetry, ECG, blood tests, and the examination of lung sounds, etc., are some of the tests that can help diagnose this condition. Abnormal lung sounds such as discontinuous bubbling, rattling, or clicking sounds could be indicative of pulmonary edema.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.