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Table of Contents > Conditions > Pulmonary Edema
Pulmonary Edema
Signs and Symptoms
What Causes It?
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Treatment Options
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Following Up
Special Considerations
Supporting Research

Pulmonary edema occurs when too much fluid accumulates in the lungs, often due to heart attacks, heart disease, or acute severe asthma. It requires immediate medical attention.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms often begin suddenly and get worse quickly. They include:

  • Extreme shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • Tightness and pain in the chest
  • Wheezing, coughing
  • Paleness
  • Sweating
  • Bluish nails and lips
  • Pink, frothy mucus coming from nose and mouth

What Causes It?

Some risk factors for pulmonary edema include the following.

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Coronary or valvular heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to high altitude
  • Heroin overdose
  • Central nervous system injury
  • Infection
  • Pregnancy
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hanta virus
  • Inhaled toxins
  • Stress
  • Blood transfusion

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

Immediate treatment is required because an attack is life-threatening. Once the initial attack is under control, your provider will order blood tests and a urine test to look for what may have caused the attack. You will also undergo a chest X ray and electrocardiogram.

Treatment Options

Medications include diuretics to remove excess fluid from the lungs and morphine to relieve congestion. In rare cases, surgery may be needed.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies can strengthen the cardiopulmonary system.

  • Increase dietary potassium and magnesium when using diuretics (for example, bananas, apricots, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables).
  • Coenzyme Q10 (100 mg twice a day) supports cardiac function.
  • L-carnitine (500 mg three times per day) improves endurance.
  • Magnesium aspartate (200 mg two to three times per day) increases efficiency of cardiac muscle. Magnesium and calcium (1,000 mg per day) improve fluid exchange in the body.
  • Potassium aspartate (20 mg per day) improves ability of heart muscle to contract and should be supplemented with diuretic use.
  • Vitamin E (400 IU per day) is an antioxidant and protects your heart.
  • Vitamin C (1,000 to 1,500 mg three times per day) is an antioxidant.
  • Taurine (500 mg twice a day) enhances cardiac function.
  • Raw heart concentrate (100 to 200 mg per day) provides essential nutrients to the heart.
  • Selenium (200 mcg per day) protects heart and lung tissues.
  • Choline (250 to 500 mg per day) and inositol (150 to 200 mg per day) positively affect heart and lung activity.


Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots.

The following are best administered in a tea (4 to 6 cups per day), although a tincture may be used (30 to 60 drops four times per day). Combine three of the these herbs with equal parts of two to three additional herbs from the following categories, according to the underlying cause. Cleavers (Galium aparine), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), oatstraw (Avena sativa), elder (Sambucus nigra), red clover (Trifolium pratense), fresh parsley (Petroselinum crispus), and dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale).

For pulmonary edema that does not originate with the heart:

  • Garlic (Allium sativum) helps you cough up mucus, lowers blood pressure, and stimulates your immune system. (Garlic can also be taken as capsules, 1,000 to 4,000 mg per day.)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) strengthens cardiac function.
  • Linden flowers (Tilia cordata) reduce spasms, lower blood pressure, prevent hardening of the arteries, relax your respiratory system.
  • Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) stimulates respiratory function, reduces spasms, and lowers blood pressure.
  • Thyme leaf (Thymus vulgaris) helps you cough up mucus, tones the respiratory system, and increases circulation.

For pulmonary edema originating with the heart:

  • Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) helps your heart work better.
  • Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) has antispasmodic properties, relieves heart palpitations, and enhances cardiac function.
  • Rosemary strengthens blood vessels and is a heart tonic.


Homeopathy may be useful as a supportive therapy.

Physical Medicine

Alternating hot and cold applications with hand or foot baths may help circulation. Alternate three minutes hot with one minute cold. Repeat three times to complete one set. Do two to three sets per day.

Castor oil pack. Apply oil directly to the chest, cover with a clean soft cloth and plastic wrap. Place a heat source over the pack and let sit for 30 to 60 minutes.


Acupuncture may improve cardiopulmonary function.


Massage can assist with increasing circulation and lymphatic drainage.

Following Up

Continued medication and surveillance may be required.

Special Considerations

Pregnant women who are obese and have high blood pressure are at increased risk for pulmonary edema.

Supporting Research

Bartram T. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. Dorset, England: Grace Publishers; 1995:73, 80, 155, 156.

Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:423, 425.

Dambro MR, ed. Griffith's 5 Minute Clinical Consult. Baltimore, Md: Williams & Wilkins; 1998.

Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Isselbacher KJ, et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 1998.

Tierney LM Jr, McPhee SJ, Papadakis MA, eds. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 1999. 38th ed. Stamford, Conn: Appleton & Lange; 1999.

Review Date: August 1999
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Robert A. Anderson, MD, President, American Board of Holistic Medicine, East Wenatchee, WA; Gary Guebert, DC, DACBR, Login Chiropractic College, Maryland Heights, MO; Tom Wolfe, P.AHG, Smile Herb Shop, College Park, MD.

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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