What Are Pneumonia Complications?

Chest X-Ray
Xray of lungs. (Image: ozanatasoy/iStock/Getty Images)

Pneumonia is a condition where an infection enters the lungs and causes them to work harder effecting breathing and overall general health. Pneumonia can occur by itself, after another severe respiratory illness, a surgery or long term immobility. When the lungs can no longer properly flush out bacteria and phlegm on their own, complications can arise—many that are severe that require immediate medical care. Some pneumonia complications quickly heal requiring only an antibiotic treatment, while others may require around the clock medical care in an Intensive Critical Care Unit with the aid of more advanced medical techniques and equipment.

Bacteremia

Bacteremia is a condition in which there is a large amount of bacteria present in the blood stream. This is considered a severe complication that may arise from pneumonia and can be fatal if not treated promptly. The indication of bacteria in the blood is detected by a routine blood draw and physical examination. Bacteremia is usually suspected if the patient is showing signs and symptoms such as high fever, coughing up green or yellow mucus, extreme weakness and the onset of septic shock. Bacteremia must be treated quickly or the infection can spread rapidly throughout the body and cause major organs to shut down. A general course of strong antibiotics and hospitalization are typically what is needed for a complete recovery.

Pleural Effusion

Pleural Effusion occurs when an excess buildup of fluids and phlegm adhere to the lining of the chest wall, the lung’s air sacs and the spaces in between. This is a common complication that arises from pneumonia and may be one of the first visible signs on a standard chest X-Ray. If the fluid is widespread in the lungs, a Thoracentesis may have to be performed. A Thoracentesis involves inserting a needle and tube into the lungs to remove the fluids and test it further to assure proper treatment and care. After the Thoracentesis, a strong round of antibiotics may be administered.

Endocarditis

Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart. This is a complication of long term untreated pneumonia or recurrent pneumonia. This condition develops throughout the membrane called the endocardium—an area that surrounds the chambers and valves of the heart. When germs and bacteria from the lungs and other parts of the body begin to spread into the bloodstream they can begin to attack this vulnerable area. Because the symptoms may undermine the pneumonia itself, such as shortness of breath, coughing or pain, it can often go undetected. Untreated Endocarditis can lead to irreversible valve damage or heart failure.

Ventilatory Failure

Ventilatory failure is another common name for Hypercapnia. This condition is brought on for several reasons, one being a severe complication from pneumonia. The muscles in the lungs, or ventilator muscles, work vigorously to allow the lungs to rise and fall and work at completing proper body function. In some pneumonic cases, this workhorse of the body is compromised and the patient is no longer able to breathe on their own. A ventilator needs to be placed on the patient so they can breathe properly and replenish blood flow and oxygen to the rest of the body’s organs.

Hypoxemic Respiratory Failure

Another severe complication from pneumonia is Hypoxemic Respiratory Failure. This condition occurs when there is severe inflammation in the walls of the lungs causing the airflow to shunt off or constrict both blood and air flow. The result is loss of oxygen to the lungs and eventually the blood stream. The initial treatment is to reduce inflammation. This is done with a course of antibiotics to eliminate infection and by Thoracentesis to remove fluids to relieve pressure and regain air and blood flow.

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