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Coughing up blood

Coughing up blood is the spitting up of blood or bloody mucus from the lungs and throat (respiratory tract).

Hemoptysis is the medical term for coughing up blood from the respiratory tract.

Considerations

Coughing up blood is not the same as bleeding from the mouth, throat, or gastrointestinal tract.

Blood that comes up with a cough often looks bubbly because it is mixed with air and mucus. It is usually bright red, although it may be rust-colored. Sometimes the mucus contains only streaks of blood.

Causes

A number of conditions, diseases, and medical tests may make you cough up blood. These include:

Home Care

Medicines that stop coughing (cough suppressants) may help if the problem comes from heavy coughing. These medicines may lead to airway blockages, so check with your doctor before using them.

Keep track of how long you cough up blood, and how much blood is mixed with the mucus. Call your doctor any time you cough up blood, even if you do not have any other symptoms.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Get medical help right away if you cough up blood and have:

  • A cough that produces more than a few teaspoons of blood
  • Blood in your urine or stools
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Light-headedness
  • Severe shortness of breath

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

In an emergency, your doctor will give you treatments to control your condition. The doctor will then ask you questions about your cough, such as:

  • Type
    • Are you coughing up large amounts of blood (massive hemoptysis)?
    • Can you see blood when you cough up something?
    • How many times have you coughed up blood?
    • Is there blood-streaked mucus (phlegm)?
  • Time pattern
    • Did it begin suddenly?
    • Has it increased recently?
    • For how many weeks has the cough lasted?
    • Is the cough worse at night?
    • What other symptoms do you have?

The doctor will do a complete physical exam and check your chest and lungs. Tests that may be done include:

Alternative Names

Hemoptysis; Spitting up blood; Bloody sputum

References

Brown CA III. Hemoptysis. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 31.

Update Date: 4/15/2013

Updated by: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

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