(redirected from Coughing up blood)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia.




Hemoptysis is the coughing up of blood or bloody sputum from the lungs or airway. It may be either self-limiting or recurrent. Massive hemoptysis is defined as 200-600 mL of blood coughed up within a period of 24 hours or less.


Hemoptysis can range from small quantities of bloody sputum to life-threatening amounts of blood. The patient may or may not have chest pain.

Causes and symptoms

Hemoptysis can be caused by a range of disorders:
  • Infections. These include pneumonia; tuberculosis; aspergillosis; and parasitic diseases, including ascariasis, amebiasis, and paragonimiasis.
  • Tumors that erode blood vessel walls.
  • Drug abuse. Cocaine can cause massive hemoptysis.
  • Trauma. Chest injuries can cause bleeding into the lungs.
  • Vascular disorders, including aneurysms, pulmonary embolism, and malformations of the blood vessels.
  • Bronchitis. Its most common cause is long-term smoking.
  • Foreign object(s) in the airway.
  • Blood clotting disorders.
  • Bleeding following such surgical procedures as bronchial biopsies and heart catheterization.


The diagnosis of hemoptysis is complicated by the number of possible causes.

Patient history

It is important for the doctor to distinguish between blood from the lungs and blood coming from the nose, mouth, or digestive tract. Patients may aspirate, or breathe, blood from the nose or stomach into their lungs and cough it up. They may also swallow blood from the chest area and then vomit. The doctor will ask about stomach ulcers, repeated vomiting, liver disease, alcoholism, smoking, tuberculosis, mitral valve disease, or treatment with anticoagulant medications.

Physical examination

The doctor will examine the patient's nose, throat, mouth, and chest for bleeding from these areas and for signs of chest trauma. The doctor also listens to the patient's breathing and heartbeat for indications of heart abnormalities or lung disease.

Laboratory tests

Laboratory tests include blood tests to rule out clotting disorders, and to look for food particles or other evidence of blood from the stomach. Sputum can be tested for fungi, bacteria, or parasites.

X ray and bronchoscopy

Chest x rays and bronchoscopy are the most important studies for evaluating hemoptysis. They are used to evaluate the cause, location, and extent of the bleeding. The bronchoscope is a long, flexible tube used to identify tumors or remove foreign objects.

Imaging and other tests

Computed tomography scans (CT scans) are used to detect aneurysms and to confirm x-ray results. Ventilation-perfusion scanning is used to rule out pulmonary embolism. The doctor may also order an angiogram to rule out pulmonary embolism, or to locate a source of bleeding that could not be seen with the bronchoscope.
In spite of the number of diagnostic tests, the cause of hemoptysis cannot be determined in 20-30% of cases.


Massive hemoptysis is a life-threatening emergency that requires treatment in an intensive care unit. The patient will be intubated (the insertion of a tube to help breathing) to protect the airway, and to allow evaluation of the source of the bleeding. Patients with lung cancer, bleeding from an aneurysm (blood clot), or persistent traumatic bleeding require chest surgery.
Patients with tuberculosis, aspergillosis, or bacterial pneumonia are given antibiotics.
Foreign objects are removed with a bronchoscope.
If the cause cannot be determined, the patient is monitored for further developments.


The prognosis depends on the underlying cause. In cases of massive hemoptysis, the mortality rate is about 15%. The rate of bleeding, however, is not a useful predictor of the patient's chances for recovery.

Key terms

Aneurysm — A sac formed by the dilation of the wall of an artery, vein, or heart; it is filled with clotted blood or fluid.
Angiography — A technique for imaging the blood vessels by injecting a substance that is opaque to x rays.
Aspergillosis — A lung infection caused by the mold Aspergillus fumigatus.
Intubation — The insertion of a tube into a body canal or hollow organ, as into the trachea or stomach.
Pulmonary embolism — The blocking of an artery in the lung by a blood clot.



Stauffer, John L. "Lung." In Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 1998, edited by Stephen McPhee, et al., 37th ed. Stamford: Appleton & Lange, 1997.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


coughing and spitting of blood as a result of bleeding from any part of the respiratory tract. In true hemoptysis the sputum is bright red and frothy with air bubbles; it must not be confused with the dark red or black color of hematemesis. 

Although recent developments in drug therapy have reduced the incidence of serious bleeding in tuberculous patients, tuberculosis remains a common cause of hemoptysis. Other causes may be bronchitis, bronchiectasis, lung abscess, or malignancy. In acute pneumonia the sputum may be bright red or it may contain old blood which gives it a characteristic rusty appearance. Vascular disorders such as congestive heart failure and pulmonary infarction can also cause hemoptysis.

Patient care includes placing the affected lung in the dependent position and keeping the airway free of blood either by coughing or suctioning. Although violent coughing is not desirable, the patient can be instructed to cough with the glottis open and without straining. Selective bronchial intubation, bronchial embolization, or surgery may be required if bleeding persists.
parasitic hemoptysis a disease due to infection of the lungs with lung flukes of the genus Paragonimus, with cough and spitting of blood and gradual deterioration of health.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


Spitting of blood derived from the lungs or bronchial tubes as a result of pulmonary or bronchial hemorrhage.
Synonym(s): bronchostaxis
[hemo- + G. ptysis, a spitting]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


The expectoration of blood or of blood-streaked sputum from the larynx, trachea, bronchi, or lungs.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


The passage of blood by mouth
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


The spitting of blood derived from the lungs or bronchial tubes as a result of pulmonary or bronchial hemorrhage.
Synonym(s): haemoptysis.
[hemo- + G. ptysis, a spitting]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


Spitting of blood derived from lungs or bronchial tubes as a result of pulmonary or bronchial hemorrhage.
Synonym(s): haemoptysis.
[hemo- + G. ptysis, a spitting]
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012
References in periodicals archive ?
Dr Al Mehza advised people to report to the hospital immediately if they noticed symptoms such as weight loss, night fever, excess coughing, or coughing up blood.
Ann Hall, 55, says five GPs at her Sutton Coldfield surgery misdiagnosed her illness as stress despite the fact that she was in great pain and coughing up blood. One even sent her home, telling her: "Just get on with it." And a hospital consultant also missed signs of the killer disease.
A persistent cough, bringing up yellow or green phlegm (thick mucus), or coughing up blood, breathlessness or rapid breathing, wheezing, a high temperature, a rapid heartbeat, chest pain or tightness, feeling confused and disorientated.
The symptoms of bronchiectasis gradually worsen over a period of several months or years and include a persistent cough; very large quantities of dark green or yellow phlegm, worse when lying down; coughing up blood; bad breath; wheezing and shortness of breath; enlarged fingertips with abnormal fingernails, known as clubbing; extensive damage to large areas of the lung finally leading to respiratory failure.
Lung cancer Symptoms: A new cough lasting longer than three weeks, a long-standing cough that gets worse, coughing up blood, unexplained breathlessness, weight loss, tiredness or chest pain.
He began coughing up blood and was rushed to hospital where doctors took 90 minutes to remove them under general anaesthetic.