Preliminary autopsy results on 33-yr-old Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, revealed that the pop star died of “fluid on the lungs,” medically known as pulmonary edema. The cause of the pulmonary edema was not given, pending the final autopsy report.
The function of the respiratory system (otherwise known as the pulmonary system) is to bring oxygen from the air into the blood stream and to release carbon dioxide (a product of the body’s metabolism) back into the air. Air drawn into the lungs is drawn into smaller and smaller airway tubes to the smallest units called alveoli. These tiny bubble-shaped sacs are very thin and are surrouded by the smallest blood vessels, called capillaries. This intimate relationship allows oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide(CO2) gasses to pass freely back and forth from the airways to the blood system. Pulmonary edema is fluid accumulation in the lungs. The extra fluid and “drown” the patient by impairing this healthy gas exchange with the circulating blood and can cause respiratory failure. Symptoms include extreme shortness of breath, a feeling of suffocating or drowning, frothy, possibly blood-tinged sputum, paleness, and excessive sweating.
Causes of pulmonary edema most commonly are caused by issues with the heart. In these cases, the heart has become weakened, and is unable to pump effectively. This causes blood to “backup” into the lungs, forcing fluid in the blood to pass through the capillary walls into the air sacs. These cardiac causes include:
There are also non-cardiac (heart) causes of pulmonary edema. In these cases, the lung capillaries become leaky without back pressure from the heart. These causes include: