Edema and Related Medical Conditions

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Flash Pulmonary Edema in Multiple Sclerosis.

Flash Pulmonary Edema in Multiple Sclerosis.

Sept 2012


Centre for Neuroscience and Neurological Research, St Vincent's Hospital, Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.



Neurogenic pulmonary edema (NPE) occurs in the setting of an acute neurological insult and in the absence of a primary cardiopulmonary cause. No unifying theory on NPE pathogenesis exists. NPE triggered by a discrete neurological lesion is rare, but such cases offer valuable insight into NPE pathogenesis.


To describe an unusual and instructive case of NPE in multiple sclerosis.


A young woman with multiple sclerosis presented to the Emergency Department in acute respiratory failure. She was cyanotic centrally, hypertensive, and tachycardic. The chest X-ray study suggested pulmonary edema. She required non-invasive mechanical ventilation for 12 h. Echocardiography revealed left ventricular hypokinesis. The asymmetrical pulmonary infiltrate raised the suspicion of pneumonia; she was given intravenous antibiotics. By 36 h, she had persistent dyspnea, paroxysmal tachycardia, nausea, and facial flushing; carcinoid syndrome was excluded. By 48 h, she had facial numbness and ataxia. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed a demyelinating lesion at the rostromedial medulla. Her symptoms promptly resolved with intravenous steroids, as did the perilesional edema on follow-up MRI.


Life-threatening pulmonary edema can complicate medullary demyelination. Lack of awareness of this diagnostic possibility and an asymmetrical pulmonary infiltrate culminated in diagnostic delay in this case. The case provides clinico-radiological evidence of the pathogenic link between medullary lesions and NPE. The pathogenesis is likely to rely on lesion involvement of the nucleus tractus solitarius or its immediate pathways. Non-uniform vasoconstriction of the pulmonary arterial bed might account for the other peculiarity of this case: the asymmetrical pulmonary infiltrate. Timely diagnosis of NPE is essential because the condition is best managed by nullifying the "neurogenic" trigger.

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