Pulmonary edema is not always preventable, but these measures can help reduce your risk.

Preventing cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of pulmonary edema. You can reduce your risk of many kinds of heart problems by following these suggestions:

  • Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension) can lead to serious conditions such as stroke, cardiovascular disease and kidney failure. In many cases, you can lower your blood pressure or maintain a healthy level by getting regular exercise; maintaining a healthy weight; eating a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products; and limiting salt and alcohol.
  • Watch your blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is one of several types of fats essential to good health. But too much cholesterol can be too much of a good thing. Higher than normal cholesterol levels can cause fatty deposits to form in your arteries, impeding blood flow and increasing your risk of vascular disease.

    But lifestyle changes can often keep your cholesterol levels low. Lifestyle changes may include limiting fats (especially saturated fats); eating more fiber, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables; exercising regularly; stopping smoking; and drinking in moderation.

  • Don't smoke. If you smoke and can't quit on your own, talk to your doctor about strategies or programs to help you break a smoking habit. Smoking can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Also avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. Eat a healthy diet that's low in salt, sugars and solid fats and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Limit salt. It's especially important to use less salt (sodium) if you have heart disease or high blood pressure. In some people with severely damaged left ventricular function, excess salt may be enough to trigger congestive heart failure.

    If you're having a hard time cutting back on salt, it may help to talk to a dietitian. He or she can help point out low-sodium foods as well as offer tips for making a low-salt diet interesting and good tasting.

  • Exercise regularly. Exercise is vital for a healthy heart. Regular aerobic exercise, about 30 minutes a day, helps you control blood pressure and cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy weight. If you're not used to exercise, start out slowly and build up gradually. Be sure to get your doctor's OK before starting an exercise program.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being even slightly overweight increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, even losing small amounts of weight can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol and reduce your risk of diabetes.
  • Manage stress. To reduce your risk of heart problems, try to reduce your stress levels. Find healthy ways to minimize or deal with stressful events in your life.

Preventing high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE)

If you travel or climb at high altitudes, acclimate yourself slowly. Although recommendations vary, most experts advise ascending no more than 1,000 to 1,200 feet (about 305 to 366 meters) a day once you reach 8,200 feet (about 2,500 meters). Rest an extra day every 600 to 1,200 feet (about 183 to 366 meters) when you're at a high elevation (8,200 feet, or about 2,500 meters).

Some climbers take prescription medications such as acetazolamide (Diamox Sequels) or nifedipine (Procardia) to help prevent symptoms of HAPE. To prevent HAPE, start taking the medication at least one day before ascent. Continue taking the medication for about five days after you've arrived at your high-altitude destination.

July 24, 2014