A cough with blood occurs when an individual's cough produces mucus tinged with pink or red blood. The blood that an individual finds in his or her sputum might come from the lungs, passages that lead to the lungs, the throat, the nose or the mouth. Also known as hemoptysis, coughing up blood can be alarming even when it is not associated with a serious illness.
Coughing up blood might occur as a symptom of several medical conditions. In a non-smoking, healthy individual, a cough with blood is most commonly a symptom of a mild infection of the bronchial tubes. The infection causes the blood vessels to become irritated, and a persistent cough might cause some of them to burst, thus leading to blood in the mucus. In an individual who has a history of smoking, however, coughing up blood might signal a more serious condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or lung cancer.
A cough with blood might also be associated with tuberculosis, benign tumors of the lung or congestive heart failure. It also might be associated with pneumonia, pulmonary embolism or certain autoimmune diseases. To determine the cause of a cough with blood, a doctor may order a chest X-ray to check the lungs for tumors, pneumonia or pulmonary embolism. In addition, the doctor might order a complete blood count to check for infection or signs of lupus. To diagnose congestive heart failure, the doctor might look at the results of blood tests, take an ultrasound of the heart or perform an electrocardiogram.
The treatment for a cough with blood usually depends on the condition that causes it. If the underlying condition is a common infection, certain types of pneumonia or tuberculosis, a doctor might prescribe an antibiotic. If a tumor in the lung is causing the hemoptysis, or if the cause is congestive heart failure, surgery might be required. Autoimmune diseases might be treated with blood transfusions or vitamin supplements, and pulmonary embolisms usually are treated with anticoagulants or clot-dissolving medication.
The prognosis for individuals with hemoptysis is dependent on the severity of the condition that causes it. Minor conditions, such as mild infections, usually improve with treatment. More severe conditions, such as lung cancer and congestive heart failure, sometimes result in death. Hemoptysis itself, however, is not usually a serious health concern, unless the individual suffers from a bleeding disorder. Very few patients who cough up blood experience severe complications as a result of the symptom itself rather than the condition that causes it.