Hemoptysis is the coughing up of blood or bloody sputum from the respiratory tract. The blood can come from the nose, mouth, throat, airway passages leading from the lungs, or the lungs.
Hemoptysis can range from small quantities of blood-stained sputum to life-threatening amounts of blood. Massive hemoptysis is defined as the spitting up of so much blood that it interferes with the patient's breathing. Generally, this is 200 to 600 or more milliliters of blood coughed up within a 24 hour period. Massive hemoptysis is considered a medical emergency. Up to 75 percent of patients with massive hemoptysis die from asphyxiation (lack of oxygen) caused by too much blood in the airways.
Hemoptysis refers specifically to the spitting up of blood that comes from the respiratory tract. Often when persons spit up blood, they are not spitting up blood from the respiratory tract, but from somewhere else. When the blood comes from somewhere other than the respiratory tract, such as from a bloody nose or from the gastrointestinal tract, this is called pseudohemoptysis. Vomiting up blood from the gastrointestinal tract, called hematemesis, is one type of pseudohemoptysis. It is important to distinguish between true hemoptysis and pseudohemoptysis because they often involve very different parts of the body and the treatments are radically different.
Hemoptysis is caused by a variety of medical conditions including tuberculosis, bronchitis, bronchiectasis, pneumonia, and respiratory tract trauma. It is also caused by many forms of lung and respiratory tract cancers, such as: bronchial carcinoma, bronchial adenoma, respiratory tract hemangioma, and occasionally by metastatic cancer to the lungs.
The goal of treatment for patients with hemoptysis is to stop the bleeding as soon as possible while also treating the cancer or other underlying disorder that is causing the hemoptysis.
Hemoptysis generally will stop spontaneously and no treatment is necessary, apart from reassurance of the patient that this condition will resolve on its own. Therefore, the general treatment for hemoptysis is to keep the patient calm and to ensure complete bed rest.
If the coughing that accompanies the hemoptysis is troublesome or aggravating the condition, cough suppressants may be recommended.
In cases of massive hemoptysis, the placement of a tube in the respiratory tract (intubation) may be necessary to allow for adequate airflow into and out of the respiratory
In the most severe cases of hemoptysis, surgery to remove the cancer that is causing the spitting up of blood may be necessary to relieve the symptoms of hemoptysis. Other treatment modalities include PDT (photodynamic therapy).
Alternative and complementary therapies
Inhalation of the fumes of a tea made from the bark of the wild cherry (Prunus virginiana) tree has been an herbal remedy for many respiratory tract ailments, including tuberculosis and hemoptysis among the Native Americans for centuries.
Idell, Steven."Hemoptysis" In Current Diagnosis 9, edited by Rex B. Conn, et al. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company, 1997.
The Alliance for Lung Cancer (ALCASE). 1601 Lincoln Avenue, P. O. Box 849, Vancouver, WA 98666. Telephone 1-800-298-2436. Fax 360-735-1305. Internet <http://www.alcase.org>
American Lung Association (ALA). 1740 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. Telephone 1-212-315-8700. Internet <http://www.lungusa.org>
Paul A. Johnson, Ed.M.
—Cancer arising from the bronchi, the major vessels that convey air to and from the lungs to the mouth and nose.
—A tumor arising in the linings of the bronchi.
—A tumor of the blood vessels that is usually present at birth. When these occur on a visible portion of the skin, they are called "birth-marks." When they occur within the respiratory tract, they may lead to hemoptysis.
—Material ejected from the lungs, bronchi, or trachea, through the mouth.