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Pulmonary edema happens when increased pressure in the blood vessels in your lungs causes them to fill up with fluid, making it hard to breathe. It is often caused by heart disease. It may also be caused by acute severe asthma, pneumonia, or exercising at high altitudes. It can also occur after a blood transfusion.
Pulmonary edema is a serious condition that needs immediate medical attention.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms may start suddenly and get worse quickly. They include:
If pulmonary edema is related to congestive heart failure, symptoms may come on more slowly. You may notice shortness of breath when you’re lying down, quick weight gain from retaining fluid, and fatigue.
What Causes It?
The most common cause of pulmonary edema is heart failure. But not every case is due to heart problems. Some risk factors for pulmonary edema include:
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Pulmonary edema that happens suddenly is life threatening and needs emergency treatment. Once the initial attack is under control, your health care provider will order blood tests and a urine test to find out what caused the attack.
Other tests may include a chest x-ray, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, transesophageal echocardiogram, or cardiac catheterization. If you are in the hospital, you will be given oxygen.
Medications may include diuretics (water pills) to get rid of excess fluid in your lungs, blood pressure medication, and drugs to dilate blood vessels. In rare cases, surgery may be needed.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Pulmonary edema should be treated with conventional medications. Complementary and alternative therapies may be used with your doctor's permission, helping to strengthen your heart and lungs. But they should never be used by themselves to treat pulmonary edema. Make sure to tell all of your doctors about any alternative therapies or supplements you may be using.
Nutrition and Supplements
Depending on what kind of diuretic you take, you may need to get more potassium and magnesium in your diet -- for example, by eating bananas, apricots, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables. Or your doctor may suggest taking a supplement. But with other kinds of diuretics, you may need to make sure you don't get too much potassium. Ask your doctor if you need more magnesium and potassium, or if you need to make other changes to your diet.
Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider to diagnose your problem before starting any treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 - 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 - 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 - 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
Ask your doctor before taking herbs for pulmonary edema.
For pulmonary edema that does not start with the heart:
For pulmonary edema originating with the heart, especially heart failure, the following herbs may help. It is important to get a diagnosis and work closely with your doctor to see which herbs may be right for your condition. Don't take these herbs on your own.
Homeopathy may help along with conventional treatment.
Alternating hot and cold applications with hand or foot baths may help circulation. Alternate 3 minutes hot with 1 minute cold. Repeat three times to complete one set. Do two to three sets per day. Ask your doctor before starting this treatment. It may not be right for everyone.
Being active or exercising helps your body get rid of excess fluid. Ask your doctor about the level of physical activity that would be safe and beneficial for you.
Castor oil pack. Apply oil directly to the chest, cover with a clean soft cloth and plastic wrap. Place a heat source over the pack, and let sit for 30 - 60 minutes. Repeat four to six times per week.
Acupuncture may improve heart and lung function.
Massage can help increase circulation.
If you have congestive heart failure, you will need to work closely with your doctor to manage your symptoms.
Pregnant women who are obese and have high blood pressure are at higher risk for pulmonary edema. People with heart failure may have complications, including sleep apnea, pulmonary edema, and pleural effusions.
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Review Date: 4/15/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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