Hemoptysis is a medical symptom characterized by spitting or coughing up blood from the lungs. The blood may be in the form of pure blood or bloodstained sputum, and it can be from the upper or lower airway. By contrast, in hematemesis, a condition characterized by vomiting up blood, blood can also come from the gastrointestinal tract. While hemoptysis can look alarming, the cause is often very treatable, as long as the patient is given adequate medical care. When going to the doctor to address the problem, it is helpful to be able to provide information about when the hemoptysis started, and any other associated symptoms, ranging from chest pain to fatigue.
Any number of things can lead to hemoptysis, including an obstruction in the airway, trauma to the lungs, the use of anticoagulant drugs, or a lung disease. Bronchitis, tuberculosis, pneumonia, aspergilloma, and pulmonary emboli can all lead to hemoptysis, as can a number of other diseases and conditions which affect the lungs. Determining the etiology of the symptom is critical, as hemoptysis can often be resolved by treating the underlying cause.
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Doctors may use a variety of techniques to diagnose the root cause, including a physical examination, an interview, medical imaging studies, and bloodwork. In some cases, a specialist in pulmonology may be consulted, so that his or her expertise in the field of lung conditions can be utilized in the approach to diagnosis and treatment. If patients have severe hemoptysis, a blood transfusion may be given to offset the blood loss.
Treatment for the underlying condition causing the hemoptysis is varied, depending on what the condition is. Antibiotics and steroids may be given to reduce inflammation and to prevent infection in patients with hemoptysis while the cause is diagnosed and a treatment plan is developed. If the condition is associated with painful bleeding in the trachea, the patient may also be given analgesic medications to manage the pain.
Coughing up blood can be very unpleasant, in addition to rather frightening. Patients who do start to spit or cough blood should book an appointment with a doctor to address the problem. Using handkerchiefs to cover the mouth or spitting into a partially-enclosed bowl is recommended to reduce the risk of spreading disease to people nearby. Using a closed container can also provide an idea of how much blood is being brought up, which may be useful in diagnosis.