​Pulmonary Edema​


Pulmonary Oedema is caused by a build-up of excessive fluid in the lungs, which leads to shortness of breath. It is mainly caused by an underlying heart condition. When the heart is unable to pump normally, the pressure in the blood vessels increases and fluid gets pushed into the lungs. The function of the lungs gets affected, which leads to shortness of breath. 

Causes of pulmonary oedema include:

  • Severe arrhythmia (irregular heart beat)

  • Cardiomyopathy or damage to the heart muscles

  • High blood pressure (or hypertension) which can damage the heart muscles

  • Living at or travel to high altitudes 

  • Decreased kidney function or renal failure 

  • Certain types of medications

  • Pneumonia 

  • Lung damage caused by systemic infection or sepsis

  • Severe seizures

  • Brain haemorrhage

  • Inhaling excessive smoke (e.g. due to fire)

  • Inhaling water (such as a near drowning experience)

  • Drug overdose

  • Any type of major injury that causes trauma to the chest wall

You may develop pulmonary oedema suddenly, which is known as acute pulmonary oedema. This type of sudden onset is a medical emergency, and you must seek assistance immediately as it may prove to be fatal. Immediate treatment to fix the underlying cause can rectify the problem. 

Pulmonary oedema may also be chronic which can be treated with medications and appropriate therapy.​​

There are several symptoms of pulmonary oedema and of conditions associated with pulmonary oedema. These may appear suddenly, as in the case of acute pulmonary oedema, or develop over time. The major symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing easily, particularly when lying down

  • A feeling of suffocation

  • Wheezing in the chest

  • Chest pain

  • Palpitations (irregular heart beat)

  • Coughing up blood

  • Anxiety

  • Excessive sweating

  • Pale skin

  • Swelling in the leg or abdominal (stomach) region

  • Fever

  • Coughing

  • Blue or grey skin tone​

If you are experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath or blood in your sputum, you may be suffering from pulmonary oedema. It is important to seek medical attention immediately to figure out the exact cause. Your physician can help you avoid pain and unnecessary complications. It is advisable not to drive yourself to the hospital. If you need an ambulance call 24/7 Emergency and Acute Care Services​, at The Aga Khan University Hospital.

A detailed examination by a medical specialist at the Heart, Lungs and Vascular Service Line​ at The Aga Khan University Hospital will help in providing a detailed diagnosis. 

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Pulmonary oedema requires immediate attention, so an emergency room doctor will first take a note of your symptoms and conduct a physical examination. This will be followed by an ECG (Electrocardiogram) and a chest X-ray. An ECG is a procedure used to test your heartbeat to detect unusual patterns which may signal a heart attack or arrhythmia. A chest X-ray is a detailed image of your heart and lungs captured by an X-ray machine which the doctor uses to check for irregularities.

Your doctor may order blood tests to check the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide, as well as BNP       (B-type natriuretic peptide) and Troponin-I which indicate whether the pulmonary oedema is due to an underlying heart condition. Other blood tests include checking for kidney function and blood count. An echocardiogram may be conducted as well, where a device called a transducer is used to create an image of your heart on a computer screen, where it can be checked for defects.

If initial tests don't reveal the underlying problem, your doctor may conduct further tests depending on the situation.

Pulmonary oedema often requires immediate treatment; the first step is generally providing oxygen to the patient through an oxygen mask or a nasal cannula (a plastic tube inserted into the nostrils). There are also medications to treat the disease leading to pulmonary oedema. These medications include pills that can decrease the pressure in your heart and lungs, medications to reduce (or elevate, depending on the case) your blood pressure or morphine to reduce shortness of breath and anxiety. 

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments' costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.



The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.