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Coughing up blood

Definition

Coughing up blood is the spitting up of blood or bloody mucus from the lungs and throat (respiratory tract).

Hemoptysis is the medical term for coughing up blood from the respiratory tract.

Alternative Names

Hemoptysis; Spitting up blood; Bloody sputum

Considerations

Coughing up blood is not the same as bleeding from the mouth, throat, or gastrointestinal tract.

Blood that comes up with a cough often looks bubbly because it is mixed with air and mucus. It is usually bright red, although it may be rust-colored. Sometimes the mucus may only contain streaks of blood.

Common Causes

A number of conditions, diseases, and medical tests may make you cough up blood.

Diseases and conditions may include:

Diagnostic tests that can make you cough up blood include:

Home Care

Cough suppressants may help if this condition is due to throat irritation from violent coughing. However, cough suppressants may lead to airways obstruction in some cases. Always check with your doctor before using them.

It is very important to note how long you cough up blood, and how much blood is mixed with the mucus. You should contact your doctor anytime you cough up blood, even if you do not have any other symptoms.

Call your health care provider if

Seek immediate medical help if you cough up blood and have:

  • A cough that produces more than a few teaspoons of blood
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
    • Fever
    • Shortness of breath
    • Blood in your urine or stools

What to expect at your health care provider's office

In an emergency case, your doctor will give you treatments to control your condition. The doctor will then ask you questions about your cough such as:

  • Type
    • Are you coughing up large amounts of blood (massive hemoptysis)?
    • Can you see blood when you cough up something?
    • How many times have you coughed up blood?
    • Is there blood-streaked mucus (phlegm)?
  • Time pattern
    • Did it begin suddenly?
    • Has it increased recently?
    • How many weeks has the cough lasted?
    • Is the cough worse at night?
    • What other symptoms do you have?

The doctor will do a complete physical exam and check your chest and lungs. Tests that may be done include:

References

Rust G. Pulmonary medicine. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 24.

Fitzgerald FT, Murray JF. History and physical examinations. In: Mason RJ, Murray JF, Broaddus CV, Nadel JA, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2005:chap 18.


Review Date: 11/21/2009
Reviewed By: Reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., and George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program San Diego, California.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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