Differences Between Congestive Heart Failure & a Pulmonary Edema

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Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood throughout the body. Pulmonary edema is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the lungs. Pulmonary edema is most commonly caused by heart failure, because as the heart fails, pressure in the lung’s veins begin to increase, as the pressure increases, fluid is pushed into the air sacs of the lungs, causing the fluid to interrupt normal oxygenation.

People with pulmonary edema often feel as though they are drowning. They may make gurgling sounds and can produce a cough that is bloody and frothy. People who have congestive heart failure often will note swelling of the feet and ankles as well as swelling in the abdomen that is not usually associated with pulmonary edema. Congestive heart failure can often cause decreased urine production and a decreased level of consciousness. Patients with pulmonary edema commonly report chest pain.


There are many similarities between the two conditions because pulmonary edema is often a byproduct of congestive heart failure. According to the National Institutes of Health, both conditions cause a person to feel short of breath, especially when lying on their back. Both can cause a feeling of fatigue and make sleeping difficult. A rapid irregular heartbeat is also common in both conditions.


Both of these conditions can be life-threatening if left untreated. Untreated congestive heart failure can trigger pulmonary edema. Other complications of congestive heart failure include total heart failure known as circulatory collapse as well as deadly irregular heart rhythms. Complications of pulmonary edema include leg or abdominal swelling, congestion and swelling of the liver, and a buildup of fluid in the membranes around the lungs known as a pleural effusion, according to the Mayo Clinic.


Treatments for congestive heart failure include medications such as ACE inhibitors to decrease the heart's workload, diuretics to pull off excess fluids and digitalis to increase the hearts ability to contract. The American Heart Association explains that physicians commonly ask people to limit salt intake, eat a healthy diet, exercise and stop smoking.

Pulmonary edema often requires emergency treatment. People with pulmonary edema will be given oxygen through a mask or may need to have a breathing tube placed into the windpipe for mechanical ventilation. The National Institutes of Health explains that if the edema is caused by congestive heart failure then part of the treatment will involve getting the heart failure under control to help relieve the edema.


Heart failure is a serious long-term illness, which can get better or worse over the course of the illness. Most forms of heart failure can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. Pulmonary edema is fatal if left untreated and people can require long-term use of mechanical ventilation, which can damage the lung’s tissue.