Pneumonia - adults (community acquired)

Definition

Pneumonia is a breathing (respiratory) condition in which there is an infection of the lung.

This article covers community-acquired pneumonia (CAP). This type of pneumonia is found in persons who have not recently been in the hospital or another health care facility such as a nursing home or rehab facility. Pneumonia that affects persons in health care facilities, such as hospitals, is called hospital-acquired pneumonia.

Causes

Pneumonia is a common illness that affects millions of people each year in the United States. Germs called bacteria, viruses, and fungi may cause pneumonia. In adults, bacteria are the most common cause of pneumonia.

Ways you can get pneumonia include:

Pneumonia can be caused by many types of germs.

Risk factors that increase your chance of getting pneumonia include:

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of pneumonia are:

Other symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will listen for crackles or abnormal breath sounds when listening to your chest with a stethoscope. Tapping on your chest wall (percussion) helps the health care provider listen and feel for abnormal sounds in your chest.

The health care provider will likely order a chest x-ray if pneumonia is suspected.

Other tests that may be ordered include:

Treatment

Your doctor must first decide whether you need to be in the hospital. If you are treated in the hospital, you will receive:

It is important that you are started on antibiotics very soon after you are admitted. If you have viral pneumonia, you will not receive antibiotics. This is because antibiotics do not kill viruses. You will receive other medicines, especially if you have the flu. 

You are more likely to be admitted to the hospital if you:

Many people can be treated at home. If so, your doctor may tell you to take antibiotics. 

When taking antibiotics:

Breathing warm, moist (wet) air helps loosen the sticky mucus that may make you feel like you are choking. These things may help:

Drink plenty of liquids, as long as your health care provider says it is OK.

Get plenty of rest when you go home. If you have trouble sleeping at night, take naps during the day.

Outlook (Prognosis)

With treatment, most patients improve within 2 weeks. Elderly or very sick patients may need longer treatment.

Those who may be more likely to have complicated pneumonia include:

In all of the above conditions, pneumonia can lead to death, if it is severe.

In rare cases, more serious problems may develop, including:

Your doctor may order another x-ray. This is to make sure your lungs are clear. But it may take many weeks for your x-ray to clear up. You will likely feel better before the x-ray clears up.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor if you have:

Prevention

You can help prevent pneumonia by following the measures below.

Wash your hands often, especially:

Do not smoke. Tobacco damages your lung's ability to fight infection.

Vaccines may help prevent some types of pneumonia.

Be sure to get the following vaccines:

Vaccines are even more important for the elderly and people with diabetes, asthma, emphysema, HIV, cancer, persons with organ transplants, or other long-term conditions.


Review Date: 4/26/2014
Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

This information 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. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.