Fluid in Lungs Symptoms, Treatment and Causes of Fluid in Lungs

All about Fluid In Lungs

Pulmonary edema (also known as Lung congestion; Lung water; Pulmonary congestion; Fluid in lungs) is a condition where a fluid get accumulated in the air gaps and parenchyma of the lungs which can lead to impaired breathing, and in a more severe case can cause respiratory failure.

Causes of Fluid in Lungs

There can be cardiogenic or non-cardiogenic causes for the lung water condition


  • High pressure in the blood vessels of the lung due to a poor functioning of the heart.

  • Arrhythmias (which forces the heart to either pump slower or faster than the normal rate), heart attacks, abnormal heart valves etc. will cause accumulation of more blood in the blood vessels of the lungs which can in turn force the fluid to be pushed out of the alveoli.


  • Kidney failure or any other condition which causes difficulty in excreting the body fluids.

  • Neurogenic pulmonary edema can arise as a result of brain trauma, severe seizures, intracranial hemorrhage etc which can possibly accumulate fluid in the lungs.

  • Infections, lung injury, toxin inhalation, trauma,  etc. can cause Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). As a result of the underlying inflammatory response, the alveoli loses its integrity hence resulting in fluid fill up.

  • When a large amount of fluid covering the lungs is removed or when the lung collapse, it is likely that the lungs will expand rapidly. This expansion can cause re-expansion pulmonary edema on the affected side.

  • Other reasons are rapid ascend to over 10,000 ft, overdose of heroin, methadone, aspirin etc., pulmonary embolism, transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI), viral infections etc.

Symptoms of Pulmonary Edema


  • The most common symptom is the shortness of breath or in severe cases complete breathlessness. This can be either sudden in case of acute pulmonary edema, or slow development.

  • Weakness

  • Dizziness

  • Rapid breathing

  • Fatigue

  • Rapid breathing than usual even for usual activities etc.

Tests and Diagnosis of Fluid In Lungs

  • The typical method is a chest X-ray which will show more white appearances over the lungs, but gives only minimal information about the underlying causes.

  • Physical examination and thorough study of medical history of the patient.

  • Measurement of plasma B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) or N-terminal pro-BNP. BNP nanogram over 300 suggests a possible heart failure as the cause of cardiac pulmonary edema, while less than 100 rules out that as cause.

  • A thin, long tube (catheter, called Swan-Ganz) is inserted into the large veins of the chest or the neck, advance through right chambers of the heart and then lodged into the pulmonary capillaries. This device can measure the pressure in the pulmonary vessels directly. This method is necessary to distinguish between cardiac and noncardiac pulmonary edema.

Treatments for Fluid in Lungs

The treatments vary depending on the cause and severity of the condition.

  • Cardiac pulmonary edema can be treated by diuretics or water pills with other heart failure medications. Such oral medications will be sufficient for treatment in majority of the situations.

  • Severe conditions will require hospitalization and the use of intravenous diuretic medications.

  • Cause like infections can be treated using antibiotics.

  • Kidney failure should be evaluated and managed properly.

  • Oxygen supplementation if in case if the level of oxygen in blood is low.

  • In severe conditions like ARDS, artificial breathing machines will be required while treatment for the underlying cause is being treated.

Medicines for Pulmonary Edema

  • Preload reducers which reduces the pressure caused by the fluid going into the heart and lungs. Nitroglycerin and diuretics, such as furosemide (Lasix) are commonly used.

  • Morphine (Astramorph) can be used to relieve shortness of breath and anxiety though the risk factors may be more than the benefits.

  • Afterload reducers can dilate the blood vessels to take pressure load off the heart’s left ventricle. Nitroprusside (Nitropress), enalapril (Vasotec) and captopril (Capoten) etc are some of the afterload reducers.

  • Blood pressure medications to raise the pressure if low, and to reduce if it is high when pulmonary edema is developed.

Alternative Healing / Holisctic Treatments for Fluid in Lungs

Alternative healing or therapies should be practices only after a strict and proper discussion with a doctor. The patient should mention all the alternative therapies he is practicing to the treating doctor.

  • Homoeopathy is a good alternative for pulmonary edema.

  • Acupuncture can improve heart and lung conditions.

  • Massage can improve circulation.

  • Physical medicine like the practice of hand or foot bath with 3 minutes hot and 1 minute cold, done thrice to complete a set, thrice a day.

  • Right amount of physical exercise to get rid of excess fluid.

  • Apply castor oil to the chest and then cover it with a clean cloth and plastic wrap. Place a heat source on it for 30 to 60 minutes, and practice 4 to 6 times a week.

  • Nutrition and supplements such as

    • Coenzyme Q10 which can reduce swelling in legs, reduce fluids in lungs etc..

    • L-carnitine improves endurance and is good for heart health.

    • Magnesium helps your heart work better and may help treat congestive heart failure.

    • Potassium helps heart muscle to contract.

    • Vitamin E and vitamin C are antioxidants that may promote heart health.

    • Thiamine may improve heart function in people with heart failure.

    • L-arginine and taurine, which are amino acids, may improve heart function in people with heart failure.

    • Herbs

For edema that does not start with the heart

    • Garlic (Allium sativum) helps you cough up mucus, may slightly lower blood pressure, and stimulates your immune system.

    • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) may help the body get rid of excess fluid.

    • Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) may help the body get rid of excess fluid.

    • Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is traditionally used as a diuretic to help the body get rid of excess fluid.

For edema that start with the heart

    • Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is used in many types of heart disease. Several scientific studies suggest that hawthorn improves the heart’s ability to pump blood in people with heart failure.

    • Linden (Tilia cordata) may help the body get rid of excess fluid.

    • Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) may act as a diuretic.

    • Forskolin (Coleus forskohlii).

    • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) helps the body get rid of excess fluid.

    • Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) may help improve circulation and heart function.

Home Remedies for controlling pulmonary edema

  • Weigh yourself daily before the breakfast and record. Call your doctor if you have gained 1 to 1.4 kg in a day..

  • Control blood pressure.

  • Listen to medical advices from doctors.

  • Sleep properly every night, and take naps in the daytime if you feel unusually tired.

  • Follow a strict diet as per the doctor’s instructions.

Complications and Risk Factors of Fluid in Lungs

Acute pulmonary edema is fatal when left untreated. In some cases, it is fatal even if treatment is given to the patient.

It is likely that continued pulmonary edema can raise pressure in the pulmonary artery which eventually results in the failure of the right ventricle, and the pressure will back up in the right atrium as well as other parts of the body  where it can cause

  • Leg swelling (edema)

  • Abdominal swelling (ascites)

  • Buildup of fluid in the membranes that surround your lungs (pleural effusion)

  • Congestion and swelling of the liver

Prevention of Fluid in Lungs

The preventive measures depend on the causes.

  • Long term prevention of heart attacks and heart diseases.

  • Slow elevation of high altitudes.

  • Avoiding drug overdose.

  • Having a healthy diet, one with low salt and fat.

  • Controlling blood pressure.

  • Controlling blood cholesterol.

  • Regular exercise.

  • Avoid smoking.

  • Managing stress.

  • Maintaining healthy weight.