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What is Hemoptysis?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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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.

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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By amsden2000 — On Sep 02, 2011

@tanner182 - Hemoptysis is very startling, especially in person. Which is exactly why Hollywood uses it. My friend got bronchitis and was coughing up small amounts of blood, so we made a mad dash to the hospital. We watch lots of horror movies, so we both assumed the very worst.

She had pretty much convinced herself that she had lung cancer by the time the doctor saw us -- just because she had smoked for a year before.

The doctor told us, as politely as he could, that we were being silly -- since it was flu season. I'm not sure we believed him at first, but he was right or course.

It was scary and he told us that we did the right thing to see a doctor though, since it could have been something more serious than bronchiectasis hemoptysis.

By tanner182 — On Sep 02, 2011

Wow, this is a favorite for the movies. I can think of probably a dozen movies that have characters cough up blood for dramatic effect. Hero will get hit in the stomach and turn to cough up a pint of blood before leaping to his feet again. Dramatic, but not exactly accurate.

Or it's always a sign of a deadly illness (cancer etc) -- which is ironic since it is usually from something treatable. I think that Hollywood just uses it because it's startling and they don't care what really causes it.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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