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Pneumonia
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Pneumonia

Diseases & Conditions A-Z

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ASTHMA & RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
Respiratory System

INFECTIOUS DISEASE

Viral Illnesses

INFECTIOUS DISEASE

Bacterial

Although pneumonia is a special concern for older adults and those with chronic illnesses, it can also strike young, healthy people as well.

There are more than 50 kinds of pneumonia that range in seriousness from mild to life-threatening. In infectious pneumonia, bacteria, viruses, fungi or other organisms attack your lungs, leading to inflammation that makes it hard to breathe. Pneumonia can affect one or both lungs. Infection of both lungs is sometimes popularly referred to as double pneumonia.

When to seek medical advice

If you think you may have pneumonia, don't hesitate to get medical care. Serious pneumonia can be life-threatening. See your doctor right away if you have a persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pain that fluctuates with your breathing (pleurisy), an unexplained fever — especially a fever of 102 F or higher for two or more days along with chills and sweats — or if you suddenly feel worse after a cold or the flu.

Be especially prompt about seeking medical care if you're an older adult, or you're affected by alcoholism, injury, chemotherapy or the use of drugs such as prednisone that suppress the immune system. For some older adults and people with heart failure or lung ailments, pneumonia can prove fatal in as little as 24 hours.

If you've received a diagnosis of pneumonia, your doctor will most likely schedule a follow-up visit four to six weeks after your initial diagnosis and treatment. By that time your infection should have cleared up, but it's important for your doctor to see you, even if you're feeling better. You don't want your pneumonia to come back. You also want to be sure that you really had infectious pneumonia.

It's especially important to make sure pneumonia has completely cleared if you're a smoker or former smoker. That's because pneumonia can sometimes occur when lung cancer obstructs one of your bronchial tubes (obstructive pneumonitis). A foreign object lodged in your lungs also can cause obstructive pneumonitis.

If you're not feeling better, the follow-up visit is an opportunity for your doctor to schedule tests to determine more specifically what's causing your symptoms.

Screening and diagnosis

Your doctor may first suspect pneumonia based on your medical history and a physical exam. During the exam, your doctor will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope to check for abnormal bubbling or cracking sounds (rales) and for rumblings (rhonchi) that signal the presence of thick liquid. Both these sounds may indicate inflammation caused by infection.

You're also likely to have chest X-rays to confirm the presence of pneumonia and to determine the extent and location of the infection. If your immune system is compromised, or the X-rays aren't clear, you may have a more sophisticated imaging test known as a computerized tomography (CT) scan, which takes a series of computer-directed X-rays.

You may also have blood tests to check your white cell count, or to look for the presence of viruses, bacteria or other organisms. Sometimes your doctor may examine a sample of your phlegm or your blood to help identify the microorganism that's causing your illness.

Complications

How serious pneumonia is for you depend on your overall health and the type and extent of pneumonia you have. If you're young and healthy, your pneumonia can almost certainly be treated successfully. But if you have heart failure or lung ailments, or if you're older, your pneumonia may be harder to cure. You're also more likely to develop complications, some of which can be life-threatening.

Pneumonia can turn deadly, for instance, when inflammation from the disease fills the air spaces within your lungs (alveoli) and interferes with your ability to breathe. In some cases the infection may invade your bloodstream (bacteremia). It can then spread quickly to other organs.

Sometimes fluid accumulates between the thin, transparent membrane (pleura) lining your lungs and the membrane that lines the inner surface of your chest wall — a condition known as pleural effusion. Normally, the pleurae are silky smooth, allowing your lungs to slide easily along your chest wall when you breathe in and out. But when your lungs become inflamed (pleurisy) — often as a result of pneumonia — fluid can accumulate and may become infected (empyema). In that case, you may have a tube placed between your ribs to drain the fluid.

 

Pneumonia > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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