If pulmonary edema has been developing gradually, symptoms of fluid overload may be elicited. These include nocturia (frequent urination at night), ankle edema (swelling of the legs, in general, of the "pitting" variety, wherein the skin is slow to return to normal when pressed upon), orthopnea (inability to lie down flat due to breathlessness), and paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (episodes of severe sudden breathlessness at night).
In general, blood tests are performed for electrolytes (sodium, potassium) and markers of renal function (creatinine, urea). Liver enzymes, inflammatory markers (usually C-reactive protein) and a complete blood count as well as coagulation studies (PT, aPTT) are typically requested. B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) is available in many hospitals, especially in the US, sometimes even as a point-of-care test. Low levels of BNP (<100 pg/ml) make a cardiac cause very unlikely.
The diagnosis is confirmed on X-ray of the lungs, which shows increased fluid in the alveolar walls. Kerley B lines, increased vascular filling, pleural effusions, upper lobe diversion (increased blood flow to the higher parts of the lung) may be indicative of cardiogenic pulmonary edema, whereas patchy alveolar infiltrates with air bronchograms are more indicative of noncardiogenic edema
Low oxygen saturation and disturbed arterial blood gas readings may strengthen the diagnosis and provide grounds for various forms of treatment. If urgent echocardiography is available, this may strengthen the diagnosis, as well as identify valvular heart disease. In rare occasions, insertion of a Swan-Ganz catheter may be required to distinguish between the two main forms of pulmonary edema.
When circulatory causes have led to pulmonary edema, treatment with intravenous nitrates (glyceryl trinitrate), and loop diuretics, such as furosemide or bumetanide, is the mainstay of therapy. These improve both preload and afterload, and aid in improving cardiac function.
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