The expectoration of blood or blood-tinged sputum from the windpipe, bronchi, bronchioles, or the lungs is medically referred to as hemoptysis. This condition may be classified into mild or massive, based on the amount of blood that is being expectorated. Though the underlying cause of bleeding may not always be of a life-threatening nature, massive bleeding is a medical emergency that requires hospitalization. A person is said to suffer from massive hemoptysis, if he/she suffers from a loss of 200-600 ml blood over a period of 24 hours.
Hemoptysis should not be confused with hematemesis or pseudohemoptysis. While former refers to vomiting of blood due to bleeding from the upper gastrointestinal tract, the latter is characterized by expectoration of blood due to bleeding in the upper aerodigestive tract (oral cavity, sinonasal tract, larynx, pyriform sinus, pharynx, or esophagus).
A person may spit up blood-tinged sputum due to a wide range of reasons. The causes could range from something as mild as a minor nosebleed or bleeding in the gums to serious medical conditions such as lung infections, acute bronchitis, bronchiectasis, etc. The rate of bleeding and the amount of blood expectorated are important factors that the doctors take into consideration while suggesting the treatment options. Here are some of the medical conditions that may cause a person to spit up blood.
Medical conditions that are characterized by adverse lung function could cause a person to cough up blood. These include:
- Pulmonary fibrosis, which is a condition that is characterized by scarring of the lung tissue, could be a contributory factor for coughing up blood-stained sputum.
- Cystic fibrosis is a condition wherein the lungs become clogged due to the buildup of excessive mucus. People affected by this condition could spit up blood-stained sputum.
- Pneumonia is characterized by inflammation of the lung due to an infection caused by a virus or a bacterium.
- Pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot in the lung blocks the pulmonary artery.
- Emphysema refers to a progressive lung disease that is characterized by decreased lung function.
- Tuberculosis is a lung infection that is caused by a bacterium calledMycobacterium tuberculosis.
- Lung cancer is characterized by the development of a malignant growth in the lung due to abnormal and uncontrolled cell division.
Conditions Affecting the Airways
Medical conditions that affect the airways could also cause a person to spit up blood-tinged sputum. These include:
- Bronchitis is a condition which is characterized by inflammation of the bronchial tubes. Recurrent coughing that may occur due to inflammation may be accompanied by expectoration of blood-tinged sputum.
- Bronchiectasis is characterized by widening of the airways due to infections or injury to the walls of the bronchial tubes.
Mild hemoptysis could occur in people suffering from certain cardiovascular problems. These include:
- Mitral stenosis is a condition that is characterized by narrowing of the mitral valve that is located between the left atrium and the left ventricle.
- Mitral regurgitation is a condition in which blood flows back from the left ventricle to the left atrium due to the inability of the mitral valve to close properly.
- Congestive heart failure is a heart condition wherein the heart is unable to pump sufficient amounts of blood.
Besides coughing up blood-stained phlegm or sputum, the affected individual may also experience other symptoms. These would vary depending upon the underlying cause behind expectoration of blood.
Here are some of the symptoms that may be experienced by the affected individuals.
- Breathing problems
- Loss of appetite
Diagnosis and Treatment
While the analysis of the patient's medical history, and the symptoms that he/she has been experiencing may hint towards the causative factor, a physical examination and diagnostic tests also need to be conducted in order to determine the underlying cause and the location of the bleeding. Chest X-ray, complete blood count, sputum culture, and bronchoscopy are some of diagnostic tests that may have to be conducted.
The location, amount, and the rate of bleeding are some of the important factors that would help the medical experts determine the treatment plan. The treatment would vary depending on the underlying cause. If a bacterial infection is found to be the underlying cause, the treatment would involve the use of antibiotics. Extensive treatment would be required if serious medical conditions such as cancer, tuberculosis, or heart disease are causing hemoptysis. While minor bleeding may be self-limiting in nature and may resolve on its own, massive bleeding is a medical emergency that requires immediate hospitalization. Medical help must be sought by those who have been spitting up blood in the morning.
While drug therapy and other treatment options may prove beneficial, the affected individuals must also make lifestyle-related changes. Since smoking puts a person at an increased risk of developing upper respiratory tract problems and lung diseases, it would be best to quit smoking. Following a healthy diet and an exercise regimen will also help strengthen the immune system.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.