What is pneumonia?
Why do people get pneumonia?
What are the symptoms of pneumonia?
How serious is pneumonia?
How is it diagnosed?

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection and inflammation of the lungs. This causes the small, air-filled sacs of the lung to become flooded with liquid. People with pneumonia may cough, run a fever and have difficulty breathing.

Why do people get pneumonia?

Pneumonia occurs when the lungs are exposed to germs not usually present in the lungs. A person may become infected through:

  • Exposure to a large amount of viruses or bacteria
  • A worn down immune system due to a recent illness - the flu, for example
  • Another illness, such as diabetes, chronic bronchitis or cancer, which predisposes a person to infection
  • Aspirating (breathing in) stomach contents. Aspiration pneumonia occurs when gastrointestinal problems cause stomach contents to back up into the throat area. From there they are breathed into the lungs. The bacteria that normally live in the mouth can cause pneumonia if breathed into the lungs
  • Recent surgery, especially if general anesthesia was involved

What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

The following are symptoms of pneumonia:

  • Fever and chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain, especially when taking a breath
  • Coughing up mucus, sometimes blood-stained
  • Muscle aches

Not all pneumonias cause a high fever. The only symptoms may be several days or weeks of dry cough, often with extreme tiredness. In the case of older adults, the only sign of pneumonia may be confusion or a decrease in physical activity.

How serious is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a common illness that occurs in all age groups and usually responds to treatment. However, it can be very serious, even life threatening, for older adults, babies and those who are chronically or terminally ill. People with mild symptoms are sometimes said to have "walking pneumonia."

How is it diagnosed?

To diagnose pneumonia a health care provider will review a person's symptoms and conduct a physical exam, checking for fever and breathing problems.

The health care provider may also use the following tests to help with the diagnosis:

  • Chest x-ray
  • Blood tests
  • Lab tests of a sputum sample (a sample of mucus, also called phlegm, coughed up from deep in the lungs)

    How to treat Pneumonia