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Bronchopneumonia

Definition

Pneumonia is an infection of the lung that can be caused by nearly any class of organism known to cause human infections. These include bacteria, amoebae, viruses, fungi, and parasites. In the United States, pneumonia is the sixth most common disease leading to death; 2 million Americans develop pneumonia each year, and 40,000–70,000 die from it. Pneumonia is also the most common fatal infection acquired by already hospitalized patients. In developing countries, pneumonia ties with diarrhea as the most common cause of death. Even in nonfatal cases, pneumonia is a significant economic burden on the health care system. One study estimates that people in the American workforce who develop pneumonia cost employers five times as much in health care as the average worker.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, the number of deaths from pneumonia in the United States has declined slightly since 2001.

Symptoms

Pneumonia is suspected in any patient who has fever, cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, and increased respirations (number of breaths per minute). Fever with a shaking chill is even more suspicious. Many patients cough up clumps of sputum, commonly known as spit. These secretions are produced in the alveoli during an infection or other inflammatory condition. They may appear streaked with pus or blood. Severe pneumonia results in the signs of oxygen deprivation. This includes blue appearance of the nail beds or lips (cyanosis).

The invading organism causes symptoms, in part, by provoking an overly strong immune response in the lungs. In other words, the immune system that should help fight off infections, kicks into such high gear, that it damages the lung tissue and makes it more susceptible to infection. The small blood vessels in the lungs (capillaries) become leaky, and protein-rich fluid seeps into the alveoli. This results in less functional area for oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange. The patient becomes relatively oxygen deprived, while retaining potentially damaging carbon dioxide. The patient breathes faster and faster, in an effort to bring in more oxygen and blow off more carbon dioxide.

Mucus production is increased, and the leaky capillaries may tinge the mucus with blood. Mucus plugs actually further decrease the efficiency of gas exchange in the lung. The alveoli fill further with fluid and debris from the large number of white blood cells being produced to fight the infection.

Consolidation, a feature of bacterial pneumonias, occurs when the alveoli, which are normally hollow air spaces within the lung, instead become solid, due to quantities of fluid and debris.

Viral pneumonias and mycoplasma pneumonias do not result in consolidation. These types of pneumonia primarily infect the walls of the alveoli and the parenchyma of the lung.

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