The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Swimming and Pulmonary Edema Part I

Reader Katharine asked:

"I am an Ironman Triathlete and have recently experienced symptoms of swimming induced pulmonary edema on two occasions this year and am trying to find as much information about this condition as possible. I have a background in swimming and have not experience this phenomena until recently. In both instances, my breathing became labored and fluid built up in my lungs during the early stages of a competitive triathlon swim.

"The most recent instance of what I suspect was 'SIPE' (Swimming Induced Pulmonary Edema) was on July 22nd at Ironman USA in Lake Placid. After the swim portion of the event, I had to be taken to the hospital as I was unable to breathe and was coughing up a 'pink frothy foam.' I felt normal within 24 hours and have still been able to continue to train as normal –initial ECG and Echo tests of my heart are normal, as well as a lung scan and x-rays of my lungs, throat and sinuses.
"The problem has only occurred in 2 out of 4 triathlon’s I have been in this year – and both instances occurred at approx. the 750m mark of an open water swim.

"It doesn't seem to be a common ailment so I’m trying to gather as much information on SIPE as possible from anyone who has studied it. I'm primarily trying to find out how to prevent it from happening. I am fine in training in the same 'open' cold water as I race it, so why is it happening on race day... Perhaps not enough of a swim 'warm-up' and an immediate elevation in HR... that along with added fluids in the days leading up to a long distance event such as an Ironman."

Warming up does not seem to be related to developing pulmonary edema. Why pulmonary edema can happen with swimming, what fluids have to do with it, and what to do, follow on Wednesday - click Swimming and Pulmonary Edema Part II .

Related Posts and Comments:
Swimming and Pulmonary Edema Part II
Subjects Invited for Immersion Pulmonary Edema Study

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.