What is it?

Pulmonary congestion (also called pulmonary edema) is a buildup of fluids in the lungs. In order to maintain a proper gas exchange (the passage of oxygen from the lungs to the blood), the lung tissue that surrounds the alveoli (the small sacs to which the inhaled air reaches) must be extremely thin. In pulmonary congestion, the fluid that accumulates in the lung tissue makes it too thick, therefore effective breathing gets impaired. Cardiac dysfunction is the most common cause of pulmonary edema (a condition called cardiogenic pulmonary edema). Cardiac dysfunction can result from heart muscle damage, valvular disorder or vascular disorder. Causes that are not due to cardiac dysfunction (non- cardiogenic pulmonary edema) are pneumonia, pulmonary hypertension or respiratory failure for various reasons. Acute pulmonary congestion can be life-threatening and necessitate prompt medical treatment.

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Additional names

This group contains additional names:
- Hypostatic pneumonia
- Pulmonary edema
- Pulmonary hypostasis

Signs & symptoms

Pulmonary congestion causes significant shortness of breath, a feeling of suffocation, rapid breathing, cold sweats, anxiety and restlessness. Signs of pulmonary edema are cold, clammy skin, bluish lips and decrease in blood oxygen saturation. In some cases, pulmonary edema can deteriorate into respiratory failure, which manifests as decreased consciousness and changes in blood pressure and pulse. This condition may require mechanical ventilation.


Diagnosis of pulmonary congestion begins with a heart and lung examination by a physician. A chest x-ray is necessary to confirm the suspicion of pulmonary congestion. Blood oxygen saturation test and blood gases test are necessary to assess the function of the congested lungs. ECG and echocardiography are tests used to assess cardiac function when cardiogenic pulmonary edema is suspected.


The immediate treatment of pulmonary congestion includes the administration of oxygen as well as the administration of drugs that help get rid of the excess fluids (e.g. diuretics) and drugs that dilate the pulmonary blood vessels (e.g. nitrites). Treatment will also address the cause of the pulmonary congestion: medications to improve heart function in case of heart failure, valve replacement surgery in case of a valvular disorder, and so on. In some cases, respiratory failure will require respiratory assistance, using a mechanical ventilator.

☝️ This is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with your physician before making any medical decision.

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