Why Does Fluid Build Up in Lungs?

lungs1Fluid accumulation in the lungs is also referred to as pulmonary edema. It results in the accumulation of fluids within the layers of the tissues that line the lungs and the chest cavity. As a consequence of this condition, gas exchange can get affected and eventually lead to respiratory failure. The cause for this condition could be due to the heart’s inability to remove fluids from lung circulation. This is described as cardiogenic pulmonary edema. Fluid accumulation in the lungs could also be a result of some direct injury to the lung parenchyma. This is described as noncardiogenic pulmonary edema.

Causes of Fluid Build Up in the Lungs

The human body produces a small amount of pleura liquid in order to lubricate the surfaces of the pleura. Pleura refers to the thin tissue that surrounds the lungs and lines the chest cavity. When an abnormal or excessive collection of this fluid occurs, it leads to pleural effusion.

Transudative pleural effusions: When there is an increased pressure within the blood vessels or when their protein content is low, it could lead to transudative effusions. The most common cause for this condition is congestive heart failure. Heart attacks or abnormal heart valves can lead to an abnormal accumulation of blood in the lungs’ blood vessels. This in turn can lead to the excessive fluid build up in the alveoli which will affect the gaseous exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Exudative pleural effusions: Some of the causes of exudative pleural effusions are :-

  • drug reaction
  • injury to the lungs
  • inhalation of toxins
  • blocked blood vessels
  • kidney failure or kidney diseases
  • cancer
  • pulmonary embolism (blockage of lung blood vessels)
  • viral infection
  • bacterial pneumonia
  • High altitude

Symptoms of Fluid Build Up in the Lungs

Some of the symptoms of fluid build up in the lungs include:

  • shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing
  • coughing that may produce blood or frothy sputum
  • excessive sweating
  • paleness
  • If the cause is related to cardiac conditions, the patient may suffer from palpitations or chest pain.
  • restlessness and anxiety
  • feeling of being deprived of ‘air’ or ‘drowning’. This might happen while the patient is sleeping when he  / she suddenly gets up and tries to catch his / her breath. This is described as paroxymal nocturnal dyspnea.
  • fatigue, dizziness or weakness

Treatment for Fluid Build Up in the Lungs

The treatment options for pulmonary edema will depend on the cause of the condition. Depending on the severity of the condition, the doctor may choose to either hospitalize the patient or treat him / her as an outpatient by prescribing oral medications. If the cause of the pulmonary edema is related to the heart, then appropriate medicines are given to stabilize the heart. Appropriate medications may be prescribed to strengthen the muscles of the heart, regulate its rhythm or to control its pressure. Water pills or diuretics may be given to relieve the body of excess fluids.

Oxygen supplementation might be administered to the patient if the oxygen level in the blood becomes too low. For noncardiogenic pulmonary edema, treatment will be advised according to the cause. For example, if the cause is related to kidney failure or kidney disease, the doctor will take the necessary steps to address these issues. Similarly, antibiotics will be given to the patient to deal with infections if the cause of the fluid retention is due to an infection.

Complications that can arise due to pulmonary edema are severe oxygen deprivation to different organs of the body such as the brain. This will require the patients to use a breathing machine.

Preventing Fluid Build Up in the Lungs

If a person develops pulmonary edema, it is vital to take all medication according to the doctor’s instructions. One should also make a conscious effort to eat healthy and exercise regularly. It is best to avoid smoking. Regular check ups will also help the doctors identify any possible indication of trouble and give timely treatment.

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