Diagnosing Pneumonia

Your healthcare provider will make a pneumonia diagnosis based on your medical history and the results from a physical exam and tests. He or she will use a stethoscope to hear if your lungs make crackling, bubbling, and rumbling sounds when you inhale, and to listen for any wheezing. Blood tests, chest x-rays, and bronchoscopy may also be used.

How Is Pneumonia Diagnosed?

Pneumonia is an infection within one or both lungs. It can be hard to diagnose because it may start out with symptoms similar to those of the common cold or flu. To help rule out these other conditions, your healthcare provider will begin by asking a number of questions and then perform a physical exam. Tests will also be recommended to help narrow down the possible causes of your symptoms.
 

The Process

Healthcare providers begin diagnosing pneumonia by asking a number of questions. These often include questions about:
 
  • Your current symptoms and how long they have been present
  • Any other medical conditions that you have
  • Any medicines that you take
  • Any recent travel history
  • What you do for a living
  • Whether you smoke.
     
Your healthcare provider will then perform a physical exam, looking for clues of pneumonia; this will include listening to your lungs with a stethoscope. If you have pneumonia, your lungs may make crackling, bubbling, and rumbling sounds when you inhale. It may be hard to hear breathing sounds in some areas of your chest. Your doctor also may hear wheezing.
 
Pneumonia can be hard to diagnose because it may seem like a cold or the flu -- people may not realize it's more serious until it lasts longer than these other conditions.
 

Tests Used to Help Diagnose Pneumonia

If your healthcare provider suspects you may have pneumonia, he or she may order one or more additional tests. The two most common tests used to make a pneumonia diagnosis include:
 
  • A chest x-ray, which takes a picture of your heart and lungs
  • Blood tests.
     
Other tests may also be ordered based on your age, how serious your symptoms are, if you are at risk for complications, and if you are in the hospital. These can include:
 
  • Testing a sample of sputum.
 
  • Chest computed tomography (CT) scan, which provides sharper and more detailed images than a regular chest x-ray.
 
  • Bronchoscopy. A bronchoscopy is used to look inside your lungs. With this test, your healthcare provider inserts a flexible, rubber tube with a tiny light and camera on the end of it through your nose or mouth and into your lungs.
     
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Pneumonia Information

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