Coughing up blood can be a frightening discovery. It's a symptom that, historically, has often been the herald of serious illness. Today, the cause for concern is not as great. But should you panic if you start coughing up blood? If you do spot the tinge of blood mixed in with your mucus, stay calm. Coughing up blood can happen for a number of reasons. However, because classifying coughing up blood yourself is an inexact science, you should still report any instance to a doctor.
What Does It Mean If You Cough Up Blood?
Coughing up blood is a symptom, not a medical complaint in itself. It can be the sign of various conditions, some more serious than others. When blood comes from the respiratory tract the condition is called hemoptysis. When the blood originates from elsewhere the condition is known as psuedohemoptysis. Being able to distinguish between the two is a vital part of the diagnostic process for the doctor - because they stem from different areas of the body, they call for different kinds of treatment.
What Are the Symptoms of Coughing Up Blood?
Experts divide symptoms into three degrees of seriousness - mild, moderate and massive. In practice you'll find it difficult to accurately measure the amount of blood you cough up. More useful is a basic distinction between mild or moderate - an amount of blood which doesn't demand immediate medical attention - and massive, which does. In this case the most pressing danger is if blood is preventing you from breathing. This can be very dangerous, and you should go to hospital straight away. Coughing up blood may also be accompanied by dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, fever and blood in your urine or stool. In all cases, seek medical attention.
Causes of Coughing Up Blood
Globally, tuberculosis is the most common cause of coughing up blood. However, in developed nations such as the United States, coughing up blood is most likely to be the result of bronchitis, which isn't too serious, or lung cancer, which obviously is. According to a 1991 study from the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Wadsworth Division, CA out of 264 patients studied the most common cause of coughing up blood was lung cancer (29 percent), followed by bronchitis (23 percent). Third most prevalent were idiopathic causes (22 percent), which just mean causes that remain unidentified. Compared to older studies, the number of times coughing up blood was caused by tuberculosis and bronchiectasis decreased. (Read more about natural remedies for bronchitis.)
Does Coughing Up Blood Mean You've Got Lung Cancer?
Usually beginning in the bronchi, lung cancer is far more common in smokers. One of the main reasons it's so important to take any case of coughing up blood seriously, and report it to a doctor, is that instances of lung cancer are frequently diagnosed because coughing up blood is reported first.
But if you're not a smoker, and your symptoms are only mild, the most likely cause of coughing up blood will either be a minor bronchial infection, or a small blood vessel that has burst from excessive coughing. This causes the bronchi, passageways in the respiratory tract that allow air to reach the lungs, to swell and become inflamed. This is normally accompanied by a thick, white-yellow mucus discharge, and is treated by reducing the cough using antibiotics or some other cough-suppressant.
Different from bronchitis, and potentially more serious, is bronchiectasis. When the bronchi suffer from an obstruction they dilate and damage the supportive tissue. Dilation can also result from irregular formation of tissue, or fibrosis - one variety of this is cystic fibrosis.
Other causes of coughing up blood are pneumonia, a blood clot in the lung, heart problems, prescribed drugs that prevent the formation of blood clots, and illegal drug use, in particular crack cocaine.
Coughing up blood is not something you can fully treat yourself. If you experience the symptoms, you should see a medical professional. There are, however, measures you can take beforehand, and others that you should avoid. What can you do to help your health if you are coughing up blood? What are the factors that make coughing up blood worse?
We've looked at research and information on coughing up blood and found the following dos and don'ts.
Top 10 Remedies for Coughing Up Blood
1. Do Take Anti-inflammatory Medicine
It can't hurt to take as much pressure as possible off the throat, bronchi and lungs, and reduce any swelling with products such as Ibuprofen will help.
2. Do Observe Your Condition
Take note of how long you cough each time you cough up blood and how much blood you produce on each occasion. Because coughing up blood can point to many different conditions, the information you gather before seeing a doctor will be extremely useful and could speed up the diagnostic process.
3. Do Rest
Resting allows the body time to repair itself. Try and rest propped up, in order to keep the airways as open as possible.
4. Do Drink Plenty of Fluids
Drinking plenty of fluids will prevent dehydration and help to thin mucus in the lungs.
5. Stop Smoking!
If you smoke, stop immediately. This may seem obvious, but it's vital that you stop, no matter how much you want a cigarette. You could even see this as the perfect opportunity to finally quit.
6. Don't Assume the Problem Will Clear Itself Up
Even if it turns out not to be the case, there are too many serious conditions associated with coughing up blood to risk it. See a doctor just in case.
7. Don't Exert Yourself Too Much
Don't pressurize the lungs with too much unnecessary activity while they are in a potentially weak state. Skip exercising. You'll have plenty of time to get fit again once you recover.
8. Don't Rely Too Much on Cough Mixture
Cough mixtures can be effective, but certain cough suppressants can lead to obstruction of the airways, and coughing also helps clear phlegm and mucus from the lungs. Drink a cup of hot honey and lemon instead, to reduce the irritation.
9. Don't Stop Taking Your Antibiotics Before the End of the Course
If, like many people suffering from coughing up blood, you're prescribed antibiotics, don't stop taking them because you begin to feel better. Instead, finish the prescribed course.
10. Don't Allow Yourself to Become Cold
If you're suffering from pneumonia, keeping warm is important.