Why is pneumonia called pneumonia syndrome

Pneumonia (pneumonia, Bronchopneumonia)

Pneumonia is an acute or chronic inflammation of the lungs that is usually triggered by bacteria or viruses. It is the leading cause of death among infectious diseases worldwide.

Short version:

  • Mostly older people are affected, but also infants and small children.
  • Typical symptoms of pneumonia are cough, shortness of breath and chest pain.
  • A diagnosis is made after an X-ray.
  • The treatment depends on the pathogen, the age of the patient and the severity of the disease.
  • With timely treatment, pneumonia heals in most cases without complications.
  • Pneumococcal vaccination is recommended for prevention.

There are numerous pathogens that can cause pneumonia. In most cases they are caused by bacteria or viruses, and in rare cases by fungi. It is usually transmitted via coughing, sneezing or saliva (droplet infection).

Whether a person will ultimately develop pneumonia depends on a number of factors. The immune system in particular plays a major role here. Infants and toddlers whose immune system is not yet fully developed, as well as older people with a weakened immune system or other concomitant diseases, are particularly at risk. In most cases there is no infection in healthy people.

Who is at an increased risk of getting sick?

+++ More on the topic: pneumonia in children +++

What causes pneumonia?

Most often, pneumonia is caused by bacterial pathogens. Pneumococci (Streptococcus pneumoniae) are among the main pathogens with 40–50%; Haemophilus influenzae, mycoplasma and enterobacteria are significantly less common. Viruses and fungi can also cause pneumonia.

+++ More on the topic: Atypical pneumonia +++

What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

Classic bacterial pneumonia starts suddenly.

Typical complaints are:

  • Cough (initially dry, later with purulent expectoration)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breath-dependent chest pain

The following symptoms are also common:

Lips and fingernails may turn blue as a sign of lack of oxygen (cyanosis).

However, there is no symptom constellation that enables a reliable diagnosis. Typical symptoms may be absent, especially in older patients. They are often only noticeable through disorientation, increasing weakness and frailty.

How does the doctor make a diagnosis?

The diagnosis is made based on the medical history, clinical symptoms, and an X-ray examination.

  • increased breathing rate
  • accelerated pulse
  • weakened knocking sound over the chest
  • Rattle when breathing
  • A definitive diagnosis can only be made through an X-ray. In addition, this provides information about the extent of the disease (one or both sides), possible concomitant diseases (heart failure), complications such as fluid accumulation and other lung diseases such as tuberculosis or lung cancer.

How is pneumonia treated?

The decision for outpatient or inpatient therapy depends on the age of the patient, the severity of the disease and any existing comorbidities.

Bacterial pneumonia is always treated with antibiotics. In the case of pneumonia caused by pneumococci, therapy is carried out with high-dose penicillins or related antibiotics.

In the case of severe pneumonia, especially in very young or elderly patients, inpatient treatment in the hospital is necessary. Additional therapy options, such as the administration of oxygen and mechanical ventilation, are available there.

In the case of pneumonia caused by a virus, only the symptoms can be alleviated; the viruses themselves are fought by the body's own immune system. Pneumonia caused by fungi can be treated with antifungal drugs.

Can you prevent pneumonia?

After a flu vaccination against influenza viruses A and B, a healthy adult is 70–100% protected against infection; in older people, the immune response is less good and is around 30–70%. Influenza vaccinations are carried out annually in the fall.

The pneumococcal vaccines currently available cover around 75% of the disease-causing pneumococci and provide reliable protection. The pneumococcal vaccination is recommended as a standard vaccination for all people over 51 years of age and optionally for chronically ill or immunocompromised people of all ages. The vaccination takes place every five years.

+++ More on the topic: Preventing pneumonia +++

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Prim. Dr. Norbert Vetter (2011), Astrid Leitner (2016)
Medical review:
Prim. Dr. Norbert Vetter
Editorial editing:
Nicole Kolisch

Status of medical information:

S3 guideline, treatment of adult patients with community-acquired pneumonia and prevention - update 2016, www.awmf.org (last accessed on 23.09.2016)

Infections, www.infektionsnetz.at, (last accessed on 23.09.2016)


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