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Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary edema occurs when too much fluid accumulates in the lungs often due to heart attacks heart disease or acute severe asthma. It requires immediate medical attention.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms often begin suddenly and get worse quickly. They include:

bulletExtreme shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
bulletTightness and pain in the chest
bulletWheezing coughing
bulletBluish nails and lips
bulletPink frothy mucus coming from nose and mouth

What Causes It?

Some risk factors for pulmonary edema include the following.

bulletHigh blood pressure
bulletCoronary or valvular heart disease
bulletExposure to high altitude
bulletHeroin overdose
bulletCentral nervous system injury
bulletHanta virus
bulletInhaled toxins
bulletBlood transfusion

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

Immediate treatment is required because an attack is life-threatening. Once the initial attack is under control your provider will order blood tests and a urine test to look for what may have caused the attack. You will also undergo a chest X-ray and electrocardiogram.

Treatment Options

Treatment Plan

There are various drugs that help to remove the excess fluid from the lungs. Oxygen is given until you are stabilized. In rare but serious cases surgery may be needed.

Drug Therapies


bulletMorphine—reduces congestion and anxiety; various side effects
bulletDiuretics—such as furosemide given intravenously; removes excess fluid from lungs
bulletVasodilators—such as intravenous nitroglycerin; to reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow

Over the Counter


Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies can strengthen the cardiopulmonary system.


bulletIncrease dietary potassium and magnesium when using diuretics (for example bananas apricots nuts seeds and green leafy vegetables).
bulletCoenzyme Q10 (100 mg twice a day) supports cardiac function.
bulletL-carnitine (500 mg three times per day) improves endurance.
bulletMagnesium aspartate (200 mg two to three times per day) increases efficiency of cardiac muscle. Magnesium and calcium (1 000 mg per day) improve fluid exchange in the body.
bulletPotassium aspartate (20 mg per day) improves ability of heart muscle to contract and should be supplemented with diuretic use.
bulletVitamin E (400 IU per day) is an antioxidant and protects your heart.
bulletVitamin C (1 000 to 1 500 mg three times per day) is an antioxidant.
bulletTaurine (500 mg twice a day) enhances cardiac function.
bulletRaw heart concentrate (100 to 200 mg per day) provides essential nutrients to the heart.
bulletSelenium (200 mcg per day) protects heart and lung tissues.
bulletCholine (250 to 500 mg per day) and inositol (150 to 200 mg per day) positively affect heart and lung activity.


Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules powders teas) glycerites (glycerine extracts) or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers and 10 to 20 minutes for roots.

The following are best administered in a tea (4 to 6 cups per day) although a tincture may be used (30 to 60 drops four times per day). Combine three of the these herbs with equal parts of two to three additional herbs from the following categories according to the underlying cause. Cleavers (Gallium aparine) yarrow (Achillea millefolium) oatstraw (Avena sativa) elder (Sambucus canadensis) red clover (Trifolium pratense) fresh parsley (Petroselenium crispus) and dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinalis).

For pulmonary edema that does not originate with the heart:

bulletGarlic (Allium sativum) helps you cough up mucus lowers blood pressure and stimulates your immune system. (Garlic can also be taken as capsules 1 000 to 4 000 mg per day.)
bulletRosemary (Rosemarianus officinalis) strengthens cardiac function.
bulletLinden flowers (Tilia cordata) reduce spasms lower blood pressure prevent hardening of the arteries relax your respiratory system.
bulletIndian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) stimulates respiratory function reduces spasms and lowers blood pressure.
bulletThyme leaf (Thymus vulgaris) helps you cough up mucus tones the respiratory system and increases circulation.

For pulmonary edema originating with the heart:

bulletHawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) helps your heart work better.
bulletMotherwort (Leonorus cardiaca) has antispasmodic properties relieves heart palpitations and enhances cardiac function.
bulletRosemary strengthens blood vessels and is a heart tonic.


Homeopathy may be useful as a supportive therapy.

Physical Medicine

Alternating hot and cold applications with hand or foot baths may help circulation. Alternate three minutes hot with one minute cold. Repeat three times. This is one set. Do two to three sets per day.

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 to 60 minutes.


Acupuncture may improve cardiopulmonary function.


Massage can assist with increasing circulation and lymphatic drainage.

Following Up

Continued medication and surveillance may be required.

Special Considerations

Pregnant women who are obese and have high blood pressure are at increased risk for pulmonary edema.

Supporting Research

Bartram T. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. Dorset England: Grace Publishers; 1995:73 80 155 156.

Blumenthal M ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Boston Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:423 425.

Dambro MR ed. Griffith's 5 Minute Clinical Consult. Baltimore Md: Williams & Wilkins; 1998.

Fauci AS Braunwald E Isselbacher KJ et al eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. New York NY: McGraw-Hill; 1998.

Thierney LM Jr McPhee SJ Papadakis MA eds. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 1999. 38th ed. Stamford Conn: Appleton & Lange; 1999.