What causes coughing up blood? 32 possible conditions

Overview

Coughing up blood is what it sounds like—when you cough up blood, expelling it from the throat, lungs, or any other part of the respiratory tract. The medical term for coughing up blood is hemoptysis. The seriousness of the condition depends on the amount of blood and the length of time the blood is being coughed up, but, a you’ll read below, it should never be ignored.

When to Call the Doctor

It’s important to contact your doctor any time you cough up blood, as it may be sign of a serious respiratory condition. Get immediate help if:

  • you begin coughing up blood following a fall or injury to the chest
  • you cough up more than a few teaspoons of blood
  • there is also blood in your urine or stool
  • you experience chest pain, dizziness, fever, light-headedness, or major shortness of breath

What to Look for When You Cough Up Blood

Blood that comes from the lungs or respiratory tract will often appear bubbly. This is because it has been mixed with air and mucous in the lungs. The color can range from rust-colored to bright red. The mucous may be entirely tainted with blood or only contain streaks of blood mixed with mucous.

Bleeding from the mouth (in the case of a cut, for example) isn’t the same as coughing up blood.

Potential Underlying Causes of the Coughing Up of Blood

This symptom can be caused by a number of different issues, ranging from irritation of the throat to lung cancer. Again, coughing up blood can potentially indicate an extremely serious problem, so call your doctor as soon as possible if you have this symptom.

The three most common (and non-serious) reasons for this symptom are:

  • irritation of the throat from excessive coughing—this is in many cases attributable to irritation from smoking cigarettes
  • bronchitis
  • tuberculosis—Although not common in the U.S., worldwide, this is the most common cause of coughing up blood

There are many other possible underlying causes of coughing up blood, many of them quite serious. Because of the wide range of health issues that can cause this symptom, it is important to see a doctor when it occurs.

These potential causes include:

  • trauma to the chest
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—chronic bronchitis or emphysema
  • foreign body/particles (such as a piece of food) caught in the lung
  • injury to the arteries in the lung
  • cystic fibrosis
  • pneumonia
  • lung cancer
  • pulmonary embolism
  • lupus
  • blood clot in the lung

Lastly, certain medical tests and procedures, such as bronchoscopy, spirometry, laryngoscopy, tonsillectomy, and upper airway biopsy can have side effects that lead to coughing up blood.

Easing Symptoms

Depending on the cause, coughing up blood can be treated in several ways. If simple throat irritation due to excessive coughing is the culprit, over-the-counter throat lozenges and cough suppressants may be enough.

Your doctor will examine your chest and lungs. They also may perform the following tests:

  • bronchoscopy (to view inside the lungs)
  • chest CT scan (to provide a cross-sectioned view of the chest)
  • chest x-ray (to show major arteries, the lungs, heart, and diaphragm)
  • complete blood count (to reveal certain diseases or conditions)
  • lung biopsy (to remove and examine a piece of tissue from the lung)
  • lung scan (to identify inflammation of the lungs)
  • pulmonary arteriography (to assess blood flow in the lungs)
  • sputum culture (to find infection-causing bacteria)

These tests will be used to identify or rule out certain diseases or conditions that would cause you to cough up blood.

Prevention

Coughing up blood is a symptom of a disease, condition, or illness. Ignoring the symptom may enable the underlying cause to worsen. Prevention lies in addressing the problem and getting proper treatment. Quitting smoking and not ignoring a persistent cough will also help prevent this symptom.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Lung Cancer Overview

Lung cancer is a cancer that originates in the lungs. Lung cancer often goes undetected in the early stages, since symptoms don't usually present themselves until the advanced stages of the disease.

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2

Pulmonary Edema

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Pulmonary edema is a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid. When this occurs, the body struggles to get enough oxygen, often resulting in breathlessness, coughing, excessive sweating, and bluish skin or lips.

Read more »

3

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a highly infectious disease that primarily affects the lungs. A severe and long-lasting cough, fever, and night sweats could indicate an active TB infection.

Read more »

4

Chronic Bronchitis

People often develop acute bronchitis after a viral chest infection. Blue-colored lips ankle or foot swelling can result.

Read more »

5

Pulmonary Embolism

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that affects blood flow to the lungs. It can damage part of the lung due to restricted blood flow, decrease blood oxygen. The most common symptom is shortness of breath.

Read more »

6

Bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis is a condition in which the bronchial tubes of the lungs are permanently damaged and enlarged, which causes infections and blockages in the airways, and gives the skin a blue appearance.

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7

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. General symptoms include chest pain, fever, cough, nausea, and difficulty breathing. Blue skin, high fever, and bloody mucus are serious signs.

Read more »

8

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Congestive heart failure is a chronic condition that affects the four chambers of the heart. Early symptoms include fatigue and weight gain. Irregular heart beat and wheezing indicate a worsening.

Read more »

9

MRSA (Staph) Infection

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus) is a type of contagious bacterial infection that is resistant to beta-lactam antibiotics. CA-MRSA typically causes lesions that are red, swollen, and painful to touch.

Read more »

10

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a recessive genetic disorder that affects cells that produce mucous, sweat, and digestive juices. It may cause severe problems in the lungs, pancreas, liver, and intestine

Read more »

11

Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common kind of lung cancer, comprising 85 to 90 percent of lung cancer diagnoses. It does not grow as quickly as the other type of lung cancer, small cell lung cancer.

Read more »

12

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer. Swelling of the face is one potential sign of lung cancer.

Read more »

13

Transfusion Reactions

A transfusion reaction is a rare condition that occurs when a person receives a transfusion with blood that is not matched to their blood type. This may cause symptoms such as back pain, fever, fainting, or dizziness.

Read more »

14

Acute Mountain Sickness

Acute mountain sickness (altitude sickness or high altitude pulmonary edema) occurs in high altitudes, especially when exercising. A lack of oxygen can give the skin and lips a blue tinge.

Read more »

15

Kaposi's Sarcoma

Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) is a cancerous tumor. It commonly appears in multiple locations on the skin and around the nose, mouth, genitals, and/or anus, but can also attack the internal organs. It's caused by a virus calle...

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16

Ebola Virus and Disease

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Ebola disease is a rare, often fatal illness. One of its late-stage symptoms is a bleeding rash over the entire body.

Read more »

17

Getting a Handle on Aspiration Pneumonia

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Aspiration pneumonia is an inflammation of your lungs and bronchial tubes that happens after foreign matter is inhaled. Symptoms include chest pain, wheezing, and blue discoloration of the skin.

Read more »

18

Goodpasture syndrome

Goodpasture syndrome is a rare and potentially life-threatening autoimmune disease. It occurs when the immune system attacks the walls of the lungs and the tiny filtering units in the kidneys. The disorder is name...

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19

Mitral Valve Stenosis

Your mitral valve is located on the left side of your heart, between two chambers, the atrium and the ventricle. Blood is pumped from the left atrium through the mitral valve and into the left ventricle on its way t...

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20

The Plague

The plague is a serious bacterial infection that can be deadly. It's caused by poor sanitation, overcrowding, and large rodent populations. Watch out for headache, fever, and swollen lymph nodes.

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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