Pulmonary Edema | Symptoms| MedStar Health

Fluid in the lungs caused by heart problems

Your lungs contain many small air sacs, which are called alveoli. Normally, these sacs bring in oxygen when you inhale and release carbon dioxide when you exhale. But in people with pulmonary edema, alveoli can fill with fluid instead of air, which means you’re not getting enough oxygen when you breathe.

Pulmonary edema most often is caused by heart failure. Our Advanced Heart Failure program is unmatched in the mid-Atlantic region for quality of care and patient outcomes for heart failure and related conditions.

Other heart conditions that can cause pulmonary edema include:

What are the symptoms of pulmonary edema?

Pulmonary edema symptoms can appear suddenly or come on gradually over time. Some of the symptoms you may notice include:

  • Chest pain

  • Fatigue

  • Shortness of breath

  • Swelling in the legs or feet

  • Wheezing


Diagnosing pulmonary edema starts with a physical exam, including listening for fluid in the lungs with a stethoscope. Your doctor may use blood tests or other procedures to determine if you have pulmonary edema and whether it’s heart related.

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Chest X-ray

Chest X-rays use a small dose of radiation to create pictures of the structures inside the chest, including the lungs, heart, and chest wall.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.


Treatment for pulmonary edema starts by giving oxygen through a face mask or tubes in the nose. Further treatment depends on the root cause of your pulmonary edema.

Additional information

Advanced heart failure program

Partner with leaders in the field to manage and treat your heart failure and help you maximize your quality of life.

Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net. If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.