Flash Pulmonary Edema (FPE) is a medical emergency marked by the sudden accumulation of fluid in one’s lungs. Frequently associated with myocardial infarction, or heart attack, this condition can contribute to widespread swelling and eventual organ failure if treatment is delayed or absent. Stabilizing one’s condition, with oxygen and medication, and identifying the cause of the pulmonary edema is essential. It should be noted that despite prompt treatment, it is possible for one’s condition to rapidly deteriorate, resulting in death.
Due to the urgency presented by flash pulmonary edema, a diagnosis is generally confirmed once the individual has been stabilized. A blood draw is generally performed to evaluate oxygen levels and kidney function and to check for impaired cardiovascular function. Additional diagnostic tools, such as ultrasound and X-ray, may be used to further evaluate the condition of the heart and lungs. If the reason for the FPE remains elusive, more extensive testing may be conducted.
Ths condition progresses rapidly, with symptoms generally presenting in a matter of minutes. Often a pronounced shortness of breath accompanied by profuse sweating are the first symptoms. Some individuals may describe the sensation as feeling like they are drowning and unable to take a full breath. It is not uncommon for the person to become panicky or anxious during the event. Additional signs of FPE may include pallor, heart palpitations, and chest pain.
The lungs serve as the main hub for oxygenating one’s blood. Tiny sacs within the lungs facilitate the removal of carbon dioxide from the blood as it passes through into the left side of the heart. When arteries become constricted, usually due to plaque buildup, blood flow becomes impaired. Without sufficient pressure to circulate the blood through the lungs, the blood accumulates, allowing for fluids to seep into the sacs. As the sacs fill with fluid, there is inadequate room for air, which forces the lungs to work harder.
When a myocardial infarction occurs, blood flow to the heart is momentarily interrupted. Often, the resulting heart damage forces the heart and lungs to work harder. Unable to balance the loss of function with demand, the heart's ability to flex and pump blood becomes drastically limited. The decrease in pressure significantly impairs blood flow and leaves the lungs vulnerable to fluid collection and flash pulmonary edema.
Initial treatment for flash pulmonary edema involves the administration of oxygen and medication to stabilize the individual’s condition. Eliminating excess fluid from the lungs and re-establishing proper blood flow is essential. Diuretic medications, such as furosemide, are often administered to diminish fluid retention and expand affected blood vessels. If the pulmonary event is known to accompany a heart attack, additional medications, known as afterload reducers, may be given to alleviate stress on the heart.