- Mar 30, 2007
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs that's usually caused by infection with bacteria, viruses, fungi or other organisms. Pneumonia is a particular concern for older adults and people with chronic illnesses or impaired immune systems, but it can also strike young, healthy people. Worldwide, it's a leading cause of death in children.
There are many kinds of pneumonia ranging in seriousness from mild to life-threatening. Pneumonia acquired while in the hospital can be particularly virulent and deadly. Although signs and symptoms vary, many cases of pneumonia develop suddenly, with chest pain, fever, chills, cough and shortness of breath. Infection often follows a cold or the flu, but it can also be associated with other illnesses or occur on its own.
Although antibiotics can treat some of the most common forms of bacterial pneumonias, antibiotic-resistant strains are a growing problem. For that reason, and because the disease can be very serious, it's best to try to prevent infection in the first place.
Signs and symptoms
Pneumonia can be difficult to spot. It often mimics a cold or the flu, beginning with a cough and a fever, so you may not realize you have a more serious condition. Chest pain is a common symptom of many types of pneumonia. Pneumonia symptoms can vary greatly, depending on any underlying conditions you may have and the type of organism causing the infection:
- Bacteria. Many types of bacteria can cause pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia can occur on its own, at the same time as viral pneumonia, or you may develop it after you've had a viral upper respiratory infection such as influenza. Signs and symptoms, which are likely to come on suddenly, include shaking chills, a high fever, sweating, shortness of breath, chest pain, and a cough that produces thick, greenish or yellow phlegm.
Bacterial pneumonia is often confined to just one area (lobe) of the lung. This is called lobar pneumonia.
- Viruses. About half of pneumonias are caused by viruses. Viral pneumonia tends to begin with flu-like signs and symptoms. It usually starts with a dry (nonproductive) cough, headache, fever, muscle pain and fatigue. As the disease progresses, you may become breathless and develop a cough that produces just small quantities of phlegm that may be clear or white. When you have viral pneumonia, you run the risk of also developing a secondary bacterial pneumonia.
- Mycoplasma. This tiny organism causes signs and symptoms similar to those of other bacterial and viral infections, although symptoms appear more gradually and are often mild and flu-like. You may not be sick enough to stay in bed or to seek medical care and may never even know you've had pneumonia. That's why this type of pneumonia is often called walking pneumonia.
- Fungi. Certain types of fungus also can cause pneumonia, although these types of pneumonia are much less common. Most people experience few if any symptoms after inhaling these fungi, but some develop symptoms of acute pneumonia, and still others may develop a chronic pneumonia that persists for months.
- Pneumocystis carinii. Pneumonia caused by P. carinii is an opportunistic infection that affects people living with AIDS. People whose immune systems are compromised by organ transplants, chemotherapy, or treatment with corticosteroids or other immune-suppressing drugs such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors also are at risk. The signs and symptoms of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia include a cough that doesn't go away, fever and shortness of breath.
[FONT="]Chest X Ray [/FONT]
[FONT="]is a painless test that creates pictures of the structures inside your chest, such as your heart and lungs.[/FONT]
[FONT="]A chest x ray is the best test for diagnosing pneumonia. However, this test won’t tell your doctor what kind of germ is causing the pneumonia. [/FONT]
[FONT="]Blood Tests [/FONT]
[FONT="]involve taking a sample of blood from a vein in your body. A complete blood count (CBC) measures many parts of your blood, including the number of white blood cells in the blood sample. The number of white blood cells can show whether you have a bacterial infection. [/FONT]
[FONT="]Your doctor also may order a blood culture to find out whether the infection has spread to your bloodstream. This test is used to detect germs in the bloodstream. It may show which germ caused the infection. If so, your doctor can decide how to treat the infection. [/FONT]
[FONT="]Other Tests [/FONT]
[FONT="]You may need other tests if you’re in the hospital, have serious symptoms, are older, or have other health problems. [/FONT]
[FONT="]Sputum test. [/FONT][FONT="]Your doctor may look at a sample of sputum (spit) collected from you after a deep cough. This may help your doctor find out what germ is causing your pneumonia . Then, he or she can plan treatment. [/FONT]
[FONT="]Chest CT scan.[/FONT][FONT="] is a painless test that creates precise pictures of the structures in your chest, such as your lungs. A chest CT scan is a kind of x ray, but its pictures show more detail than those of a standard chest x ray. [/FONT]
[FONT="]Pleural fluid culture.[/FONT][FONT="] For this test, a sample of fluid is taken from the space between your lungs and chest wall (the pleural space). This is done using a procedure called thoracentesis. The fluid is studied for germs that may cause pneumonia. [/FONT]
[FONT="]Pulse oximetry.[/FONT][FONT="] For this test, a small clip is attached to your finger or ear to show how much oxygen is in your blood. Pneumonia can keep your lungs from moving enough oxygen into your bloodstream. [/FONT]
[FONT="]If you’re very sick, your doctor may need to measure the level of oxygen in your blood using a blood sample. The sample is taken from an artery, usually in your wrist.[/FONT]
[FONT="]Bronchoscopy.[/FONT][FONT="] is a procedure used to look inside the lungs' airways. If you’re in the hospital and treatment with antibiotics isn’t working well, your doctor may use this test.[/FONT]
[FONT="]Your doctor passes a thin, flexible tube with a camera on its tip through your nose or mouth, down your throat, and into the airways. [/FONT]
[FONT="]This test allows your doctor to see whether something is blocking your airways or whether another factor is contributing to your pneumonia.[/FONT]
[FONT="]Your health care provider usually will prescribe antibiotics to treat this disease. The symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia usually go away within 12 to 36 hours after you start taking medicine. [/FONT]
[FONT="]Some bacteria such as [FONT="]S. pneumoniae[/FONT], however, are now capable of resisting and fighting off antibiotics. Such antibiotic resistance is increasing worldwide because these medicines have been overused or misused. Therefore, if you are at risk of getting pneumococcal pneumonia, you should talk with your health care provider about what you can do to prevent it.[/FONT]