A doctor may first suspect pneumonia based on a medical history and a physical exam. During the exam, the doctor will listen to the lungs with a stethoscope to check for abnormal bubbling or crackling sounds and for rumblings that signal the presence of thick liquid. Both these sounds may indicate inflammation caused by infection.
A chest X-ray is usually used to confirm the presence of pneumonia and to determine the extent and location of the infection.
Blood tests are usually performed to check white blood cell count, or to look for the presence of viruses, bacteria, or other organisms. A doctor may examine a sample of phlegm (mucus) or blood to help identify the microorganism that is causing the pneumonia.
signs and symptoms
The symptoms of pneumonia can vary and generally overlap with other symptoms of the common cold or flu. This variability makes it sometimes difficult to recognize pneumonia. Many people attribute it to a cold that just won't go away. However, pneumonia can be life-threatening if it is not properly treated.
Some symptoms of pneumonia include: shaking and chills; fever; a cough that produces mucus or phlegm, which usually appears rust colored or burnt orange; shortness of breath; chest pain worsened by deep breathing or coughing; and night sweats. When pneumonia is caused by bacteria, an infected individual usually becomes sick relatively quickly and experiences the sudden onset of high fever and unusually rapid breathing. When pneumonia is caused by viruses, symptoms tend to appear more gradually and are often less severe than in bacterial pneumonia. Wheezing may be more common in viral pneumonia.
In extreme cases, the individual has a desperate need for air and extreme breathlessness. Viral pneumonias may be complicated by an invasion of bacteria, with all the typical symptoms of bacterial pneumonia.
Mycoplasma, or walking pneumonia, 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. The individual may not be sick enough to stay in bed or to seek medical care and may never even know they have had pneumonia.
The incubation period for pneumonia varies, depending on the type of virus or bacteria causing the infection. Some common incubation periods are: respiratory syncytial virus, four to six days; influenza, 18-72 hours.
With treatment, most types of bacterial pneumonia can be cured within one to two weeks. Viral pneumonia may last longer. Mycoplasma pneumonia may take four to six weeks to resolve completely.
The seriousness of pneumonia depends on the individuals overall health and the type and severity of the pneumonia. If the person is young and healthy, pneumonia can usually be treated successfully. Those with other health conditions, especially from smoking, or if older, pneumonia may be harder to cure. These individuals are also more likely to develop lung complications, some of which can be life-threatening.
Sepsis: Sepsis, or bacteremia, is bacteria in the bloodstream. Pneumonia can be deadly when inflammation fills the air sacs in the lungs and interferes with the individual's ability to breathe. In some cases the infection may invade the bloodstream. It can then spread quickly to other organs.
Fluid accumulation: Pleural effusion is when fluid accumulates between the thin, transparent membrane covering the lungs and the membrane that lines the inner surface of the chest wall. Normally, the pleurae are silky smooth, allowing the lungs to slide easily along the chest wall when the individual breathes in and out. But when the pleurae around the lungs become inflamed (called pleurisy), often as a result of pneumonia, fluid can accumulate and may become infected (called empyema).
Lung abscess: A lung abscess, or a cavity containing pus that forms within the area affected by pneumonia, is another potential complication. Abscesses usually are treated with antibiotics, but in rare cases they may need to be removed surgically.
Mechanical breathing: Some individuals with pneumonia who cannot breathe on their own may require the assistance of a mechanical ventilator. Ventilator-associated pneumonia has a high mortality rate (up to 40%) and has serious complications, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).