Pathophysiology of Pneumonia

In this article, we cover pathophysiology of pneumonia, causes, symptoms, treatment and pictures that illustrate the inflammation of lungs.

What is Pneumonia ?

It is a disease caused due to infection of the lungs, which results in its inflammation. Pneumonia can be caused by bacterial, fungal, viral or other parasitic infection. Individuals who are suffering from chronic illnesses, or are above 65 years of age, or have an impaired immune system need to be particularly careful when affected by pneumonia. It is important to note that young, healthy individuals can also get affected by pneumonia.

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Pneumonia can be either mild or result in fatalities. On most occasions, pneumonia is caused due to the presence of some other disease such as the flu. Most types of bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics. However, it is important to note that there are many new strains of bacteria that are antibiotic resistant and hence one should always try to prevent the onset of pneumonia.

Pathophysiology of pneumonia

One has to comprehend the possible causes of pneumonia to be able to understand its pathophysiology. It can be caused due to infection by various microorganisms as well as chemicals that can inflame the lungs. In rare cases, pneumonia can also result from lung trauma. The entry of such foreign matter into the body causes a reaction of the immune system, which causes the levels of oxygen in the body to decrease substantially. The initial symptoms then begin, as the affected individual engages in deeper and faster breathing patterns.

The production of mucus then begins to increase, which in turn starts to fill the alveoli. The alveoli are tiny sac-like structures in the lungs that facilitate the exchange of gas. The progression of pneumonia leads to an increase in the number of white blood cells. Such substantial increased in the white blood cell count results in debris formation, which are also deposited in the alveoli, thereby upping the severity status of pneumonia.

Symptoms of pneumonia

Some of the signs and symptoms of pneumonia are as follows:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Older adults may experience decreased body temperatures
  • Breathlessness or shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Chills and tremors
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Pain in the chest that fluctuates as per the breathing pattern
  • Muscle pain

Some of the possible complications of pneumonia include:

  • The bacteria from alveoli may pass on to the bloodstream during gas exchange, which in turn can lead to multiple organ failure and septic shock or coma and even death.
  • Pus abscesses may develop as a cavity within the lungs
  • In case the patient has a pre-existing lung condition such as COPD, then the breathing difficulties that are associated with pneumonia may increase the risk to the development of acute respiratory distress syndrome.
  • Fluid may collect in the area between the pleura and the chest wall, with an increased risk to such fluid becoming infected.

Causes of pneumonia

Pneumonia can be caused in a number of ways as discussed below:

  • Community-acquired pneumonia: Pneumonia that is caused due to infection by germs that are present in the everyday environment is known as community-acquired pneumonia. It is usually mild and can be easily treated by doctors. The condition can be caused by the following germs:
    • Bacteria: Streptococcus pneumonia is the most common culprit, while other types of bacteria that can cause the condition include Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumonia and Haemophilus influenza.
    • Viruses: The viruses that cause cold and flu can also cause pneumonia, which is mild and can be easily treated. Viral pneumonia caused by viruses that cause influenza is however dangerous.
    • Bacteria like organisms: Organisms that are neither viruses nor bacteria but can cause pneumonia include Chlamydia pneumonia and Legionella. Mycoplasma pneumonia is another organism that can cause a mild form of pneumonia called walking pneumonia.
    • Other organisms: Fungi, certain parasites and the organism that results in TB can also cause pneumonia
    • Health care settings related pneumonia: This refers to pneumonia that is acquired in hospitals, chemotherapy centers, etc. due to infections by many different types of bacteria. This type of pneumonia is serious and the bacteria that cause the disease usually become drug resistant, thereby making it difficult to treat the condition. Some of the possible culprits include Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Streptococcus pneumonia, MRSA and Haemophilus influenza.
    • Aspiration or inhalation pneumonia: This refers to pneumonia that can be caused due to entry of foreign matter into the lungs by inhalation. For example, when a person vomits in sleep, one may mistakenly breathe in the foreign matter present in vomit.
    • Opportunistic fungal, bacterial, viral, pneumonia: Individuals who have an impaired immune system due to chemotherapy treatments, AIDS, recent organ transplant, etc. can be affected by this type of pneumonia.

Pneumonia Treatment

Severe cases of pneumonia require hospitalization. Mild cases of pneumonia can be treated with the following medications:

  • Bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, while viral pneumonia requires treatment with various antiviral medications
  • Cough medications and syrups can ease the symptoms of cough and aid in elimination of sputum
  • Fever can be reduced with drugs such as ibuprofen, etc.

One can significantly reduce the risk of developing pneumonia by getting vaccinated against the possible germs that cause the disease. Seasonal flu shots can be availed by children. Adults can avail of pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, while one-time vaccine to protect against infection by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria is recommended for people older than 65 years old.

Pneumonia Pictures

Let us go through the pictures of pneumonia including diagram of the lungs and the alveoli – tiny air sacs in the lungs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place.

Here is the diagram of the respiratory system including the lungs

Diagram of Alveoli

Here are Pneumonia, see how bacteria, viruses and other pathogens cause inflammation in the lungs

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