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What is Cardiac Edema?

Cardiac edema is a symptom where the heart struggles to pump effectively, leading to fluid accumulation in the body's tissues, often visible in swollen ankles and feet. This condition can signal underlying heart issues, requiring medical attention. Intriguingly, the causes and treatments are varied and complex. What might this mean for you or your loved ones? Continue reading to uncover the implications.
C. Peete
C. Peete

Cardiac edema is a buildup of fluid in the interstitial tissues and cavities of the body as a result of congestive heart failure. Symptoms of edema are fatigue or weakness, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath and weight gain caused by fluid retention. These symptoms can be a sign of other conditions, but they still warrant an immediate visit to the doctor when they occur.

The area of the body affected by cardiac edema depends on which area of the heart is affected by heart failure. When the failure occurs in the lower left chamber of the heart, or the left ventricle, blood is not pumped out to the body as fast as it returns to the lungs. Blood then builds up in the blood vessels of the lungs. Sometimes fluid from the blood seeps into the breathing space of the lungs, causing a potentially life-threatening condition known as pulmonary edema.

Electrocardiograms record electrical impulses in a person's heart that may be used to diagnose cardiac issues.
Electrocardiograms record electrical impulses in a person's heart that may be used to diagnose cardiac issues.

When failure occurs in the heart’s lower right chamber, the right ventricle, blood is not pumped out to the lungs as fast as it is pumped back to the body through the veins. Blood builds up in the right side of the heart and veins, forcing fluid into the tissues. Cardiac edema in this case is characterized by swelling in the legs, feet and abdomen.

Congestive heart failure may lead to the development of pulmonary edema.
Congestive heart failure may lead to the development of pulmonary edema.

Cardiac edema is a symptom, not a disease, so identifying the cause of the edema is crucial in determining a course of treatment. Seeking immediate medical attention is an important step toward ensuring a positive prognosis. This is especially important when pulmonary edema occurs, because prompt medical care can be the difference between recovery and sudden death.

Surgery is sometimes required to repair damaged heart valves.
Surgery is sometimes required to repair damaged heart valves.

Various tests are performed to determine the cause and severity of the heart failure causing the edema. A patient might undergo a physical exam, electrocardiogram (EKG) to check heart rhythm, chest X-ray, cardiac catheterization to detect abnormalities in the heart vessels and echocardiography tests to detect abnormalities in the heart valves, coronary arteries and walls of the heart. The patient's medical history also is reviewed.

Shortness of breath and an irregular heart beat are symptoms of cardiac edema.
Shortness of breath and an irregular heart beat are symptoms of cardiac edema.

Treatment for mild or moderate cases of heart failure involve a change in diet, starting an exercise regimen and taking medications such as diuretics, digitalis, vasodilators, beta blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers and calcium channel blockers. Surgery sometimes is required to repair damaged heart valves or walls. Severe or "end-stage" heart failure cannot be treated by medication because the heart muscle is too damaged. The only option is a heart transplant.

A heart transplant may be possible for some patients with severe cardiac edema.
A heart transplant may be possible for some patients with severe cardiac edema.

The only solution for cardiac edema is prevention of the conditions that cause it. People with high blood pressure or high cholesterol should work closely with their doctor to minimize their risk of heart disease or heart failure. Adapting a lifestyle that incorporates daily exercise, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy body weight also go a long way toward preventing conditions that cause cardiac edema.

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Discussion Comments

Rundocuri

Cardiac edema is something you want to work towards avoiding long before cardiac symptoms occur. Along with a diet low in fat and salt, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables is good for your heart. Also, exercise if very important to keeping your heart pumping properly and avoiding cardiac problems. If you are concerned about future heart problems, check with your doctor and find an exercise program that gets you moving.

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    • Electrocardiograms record electrical impulses in a person's heart that may be used to diagnose cardiac issues.
      By: nyul
      Electrocardiograms record electrical impulses in a person's heart that may be used to diagnose cardiac issues.
    • Congestive heart failure may lead to the development of pulmonary edema.
      By: Alila Medical Media
      Congestive heart failure may lead to the development of pulmonary edema.
    • Surgery is sometimes required to repair damaged heart valves.
      By: Arkady Chubykin
      Surgery is sometimes required to repair damaged heart valves.
    • Shortness of breath and an irregular heart beat are symptoms of cardiac edema.
      By: nuiiko
      Shortness of breath and an irregular heart beat are symptoms of cardiac edema.
    • A heart transplant may be possible for some patients with severe cardiac edema.
      By: sudok1
      A heart transplant may be possible for some patients with severe cardiac edema.