Pneumonia is a condition during which one or both lungs are inflamed as a result of an infectious process. Cases of pneumonia range from mild to severe. Pneumonia may be deadly for children under the age of 5 and adults over the age of 65. To avoid serious harm, pneumonia must be diagnosed and treated early. Delay in diagnosing and treating pneumonia may result in serious medical complications.
If your pneumonia has been mishandled by a health care provider, call our offices today.
If the immune system fails to fight bacteria, viruses, and other infectious agents in the lungs and the airways, the lungs can become infected. A lung infection will cause one or both lungs to be inflamed, and the air sacs in the lungs to fill with fluid. This interferes with the normal function of the lungs and causes a buildup of carbon dioxide and a lack of oxygen in the body. Oxygen deprivation may cause excessive inflammation, respiratory failure, organ failure, and other complications.
Pneumonia is contracted from bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents in the air or in the mouth or nose. It can also be contracted from infectious agents on medical equipment such as a ventilator if the patient is intubated. Bacterial pneumonia is usually the most serious. Viral pneumonia may be equally serious depending on the nature of the viral infection.
According to the World Health Organization, the most common causes of pneumonia are:
- Streptococcus pneumonae—the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)—the second most common cause of bacterial pneumonia
- Respiratory syncytial virus—the most common cause of viral pneumonia
- Pneumocystis jiroveci —one of the most common causes of pneumonia
Pneumonia Facts and Statistics
- In 2013, there were 53,282 deaths in the United States from pneumonia
- About 1.1 million people in the United States were hospitalized for pneumonia in 2010
- Between 5 and 10 million people get pneumonia each year in the United States
- Pneumonia is the third most common cause of hospitalization
Risk Factors and Symptoms
The most common risk factor for pneumonia are being under the age of 5 or over the age of 65; these populations are known to have a weaker immune system. Other risk factors include:
- Chronic lung diseases like bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Weakened immune system due to age, cancer treatments, surgeries, or HIV/ AIDS
- Recent surgery or hospitalization with intubation (using a ventilator to breathe)
- Brain disorders like cerebral palsy, dementia, or stroke
Symptoms of pneumonia include:
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes that there are six vaccines available that can help prevent some upper respiratory bacteria and viruses from causing pneumonia. These vaccines are:
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
- Influenza (flu)
- Pertussis (whooping cough)
- Varicella (chickenpox)
The CDC also recommends two vaccines for adults over the age of 65: pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) followed by pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) a year later. If the PPSV23 has already been received at any point, a dose of PCV13 should be administered at least one year later.
Diagnosing and Treating Pneumonia
If doctors suspect pneumonia, they should perform a full physical examination. Doctors will listen to your lungs to detect, any unusual noises when breathing like crackling, bubbling, or wheezing.
A chest x-ray is the most common diagnostic test for pneumonia. It allows doctors to see whether the lungs are inflamed or if they can contain fluid, although it does not provide information on whether the infection is caused by bacteria or a virus. Doctors may also order a blood test to determine the type of infection.
Bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics, usually in pill form. Viral pneumonia will not respond to antibiotics and is instead treated with antiviral medicine.
If pneumonia progresses rapidly or becomes too serious, patients may need to be hospitalized so doctors can monitor oxygen levels.
Pneumonia Malpractice Lawsuits in Maryland
Timely diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia are essential to a patient's recovery and survival chances, especially if the patient is high risk (under 5 years of age or over 65). Symptoms of pneumonia are similar to symptoms of unrelated conditions like influenza (flu), bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This can lead to a delayed or failed diagnosis of pneumonia.
One study showed that about 87% of diagnostic errors at a VA hospital in Texas involved common conditions like pneumonia and UTI infections. Another study found that almost 28% of all diagnostic errors were fatal. Pneumonia is already common in people with a weakened immune system, which makes diagnostic errors especially dangerous.
Although pneumonia often starts as another type of infection, like the flu, doctors should appreciate that pneumonia often develops as a consequence or in the setting of other infections.
If your pneumonia has been mishandled by a health care provider, call Gilman & Bedigian today to learn more about your legal options. We offer free consultations.