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Pulmonary edema is a disorder wherein fluid accumulates in the lungs leading to lack of oxygen in the body. The usual cause of pulmonary edema is congestive heart failure (the muscles of the heart are unable to pump blood). In this disorder, the heart has to work extra hard to pump blood, so this adds extra pressure on the blood vessels that are present in the lungs. In a bid to relieve this added pressure, fluid is released into the lungs by the blood vessels.
The function of your lungs is to take in oxygen from the air and circulate it in the bloodstream. However, fluid accumulation in the lungs impairs the ability to supply oxygen in the blood. As the oxygen does not reach the blood, the body gets deprived of oxygen.
The most frequent cause of pulmonary edema is congestive heart failure. Some other causes of pulmonary edema are pneumonia, failure of the kidney, damage to the lungs, high blood pressure and sepsis of the blood (infection). Apart from these internal medical causes, certain external factors such as exposure to high altitudes, drug overdose and inhalation of toxic substances can also cause pulmonary edema.
The symptoms of pulmonary edema are coughing, swelling of the legs, breathlessness and wheezing. In case of severe pulmonary edema, symptoms such as respiratory failure, shock and organ damage due to lack of oxygen may occur.
The initial step to treat pulmonary edema is to administer oxygen. Oxygen is given through a nasal cannula; it is a flexible tube made of plastic with two openings that allow oxygen to be delivered to the nostrils. The oxygen levels in your body are closely monitored by the doctor.
Based on the cause of pulmonary edema, the following treatments are administered:
- Morphine: Morphine is administered to reduce breathing difficulties and anxiety.
- Preload reducers: These medications help relieve the pressure in the lungs and the heart. Diuretics are a type of preload reducers; it is also known to cause excessive urination.
- Afterload reducers: Afterload reducers are medications that relieve pressure from the left ventricle by dilating the blood vessels.
- Use of blood pressure medication: Pulmonary edema caused by blood pressure changes i.e. if the disorder is caused by changes in your blood pressure, then blood pressure medications are administered to get your pressure back to normal levels.
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