Depending on the cause, pulmonary edema symptoms may appear suddenly or develop slowly.

Sudden (acute) pulmonary edema symptoms

  • Extreme shortness of breath or difficulty breathing (dyspnea) that worsens when lying down
  • A feeling of suffocating or drowning
  • Wheezing or gasping for breath
  • Anxiety, restlessness or a sense of apprehension
  • A cough that produces frothy sputum that may be tinged with blood
  • Excessive sweating
  • Pale skin
  • Chest pain, if pulmonary edema is caused by heart disease
  • A rapid, irregular heartbeat (palpitations)

If you develop any of these signs or symptoms, call 911 or emergency medical assistance right away. Pulmonary edema can be fatal if not treated.

Long-term (chronic) pulmonary edema symptoms

  • Having more shortness of breath than normal when you're physically active.
  • Difficulty breathing with exertion, often when you're lying flat as opposed to sitting up.
  • Wheezing.
  • Awakening at night with a breathless feeling that may be relieved by sitting up.
  • Rapid weight gain when pulmonary edema develops as a result of congestive heart failure, a condition in which your heart pumps too little blood to meet your body's needs. The weight gain is from buildup of fluid in your body, especially in your legs.
  • Swelling in your legs and ankles.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fatigue.

High-altitude pulmonary edema symptoms

  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Fluid retention
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

When to see a doctor

Pulmonary edema that comes on suddenly (acute) is life-threatening. Get emergency assistance if you have any of the following acute signs and symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing or a feeling of suffocating (dyspnea)
  • A bubbly, wheezing or gasping sound when you breathe
  • Pink, frothy sputum when you cough
  • Breathing difficulty along with profuse sweating
  • A blue or gray tone to your skin
  • A severe drop in blood pressure resulting in lightheadedness, dizziness, weakness or sweating
  • A sudden worsening of any of the symptoms associated with chronic pulmonary edema or high-altitude pulmonary edema

Don't attempt to drive yourself to the hospital. Instead, call 911 or emergency medical care and wait for help.

Jul. 29, 2011