Pulmonary edema is a life-threatening medical emergency requiring hospitalization and immediate treatment. Seek immediate medical treatment if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- grunting while breathing
- excessive sweating
- abnormally pale skin (pallor)
- abnormal heartbeat or rhythm
- chest pain.
Treatment for pulmonary edema may include oxygen, being put on a ventilator, and medications that remove fluid from the body (diuretics) or improve heart function (vasodilators). Other medications may be used as well to treat the underlying heart disease. Tranquilizers or other anti-anxiety drugs may help with the fear and panic that may accompany a person's inability to breathe.People who have swelling and pain in only one calf or ankle, especially if it is sudden in onset, may have a blood clot in that leg. A blood clot in the leg can go to the lungs, and this is a medical emergency. Anyone concerned about a blood clot in the leg should seek immediate care from a doctor.
Mild peripheral edema can often be minimized or prevented by elevating the affected limbs and using support garments. Mild swelling caused by varicose veins or pregnancy can be reduced using simple techniques. Elastic bandages or support stockings can reduce fluid accumulation in the ankles or lower legs. Support gloves can help prevent fluid from pooling in the hands or wrists in the infrequent cases where edema occurs in the upper extremities. Elevating the legs or arms while lying down can also help prevent fluid from pooling in the extremities.
Your physician may recommend dietary changes to prevent edema. Your physician may recommend a lower sodium diet, as salt intake can contribute to edema. In some cases, reducing your fluid intake may be helpful as well. As always, a healthy diet including fruits and vegetables provides the nutrients necessary to keep the skin and other body tissues in good condition.
Regular exercise can help reduce or prevent swelling in the legs and ankles. Walking, in particular, helps veins in the legs move blood back to the heart.
Swollen tissues over bony areas become fragile over time. For chronic edema, take care to prevent the skin from breaking down.
- Change position often while sitting or lying down
- Use pressure-relieving devices such as pressure mattresses, lamb’s wool pads, or pressure rings
- Protect swollen areas of the body from injury and extreme temperatures
- Massage swollen areas to help move fluid out of the tissue and back into the lymphatic system
Take steps to prevent any possible underlying disease. Because edema is usually a symptom of another underlying condition, taking steps to prevent the condition will also help prevent the edema. For example, stopping smoking will reduce your risk of developing chronic lung disease, a major cause of edema. Similarly, losing weight may reduce your risk of developing diabetes or serious heart disease, and treating alcohol or drug abuse may reduce your risk of chronic liver disease.
Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat varicose veins. Once the veins are removed, less blood should pool in the lower legs, reducing any swelling.
The prognosis for edema depends on the underlying cause. The prognosis for most cases of edema is good. Simple measures such as dietary changes and elevating the affected limb can reduce or prevent swelling. Even pulmonary edema can be cured with immediate treatment and control of the underlying cause.
The prognosis for edema associated with serious underlying conditions, however, depends on the condition. For example, pulmonary edema can be fatal when it is caused by heart disease.
Follow-up depends on the underlying cause of the edema. For mild edema without a serious underlying cause, follow-up may not be required unless unexplained edema recurs. For more serious cases, follow-up physician visits may be required to monitor fluid and electrolyte balances in the body. Serious heart, lung, liver, or kidney disease may require frequent follow-up and ongoing treatment.
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