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Community-acquired Pneumonia

What is community-acquired pneumonia and what causes it?

Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) is a lung infection that you get outside of a hospital or nursing home setting. When you have CAP, your lungs become inflamed and cannot work well. CAP may be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi.


What increases my risk for CAP?

  • Chronic lung disease

  • Cigarette smoking

  • Brain disorders such as stroke, dementia, and cerebral palsy

  • Weakened immune system

  • Recent surgery or trauma

  • Surgery for cancer of the mouth, throat, or neck

  • Medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease

What are the signs and symptoms of CAP?

  • Cough (you may cough up green, yellow, or bloody mucus)

  • Fever, chills, or severe shaking

  • Shortness of breath

  • Breathing and heartbeat that are faster than usual

  • Pain in your chest or back when you breathe in or cough

  • Fatigue and loss of appetite

  • Trouble thinking clearly (especially the elderly)

How is CAP diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will listen to your lungs for abnormal sounds. You may also need any of the following:

  • A chest x-ray may show the infection in your lungs. A chest x-ray may also show other problems, such as fluid around your lungs.

  • A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood.

  • Blood and sputum tests may be done to check for the germ causing your infection.

How is CAP treated?

Treatment will depend on what type of germ is causing your CAP, and how bad your symptoms are. You may need antibiotics if your pneumonia is caused by bacteria. You may need medicines that dilate your bronchial tubes. You may need oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may need to be admitted to the hospital if your pneumonia is severe.

What can I do to manage CAP?

  • Breathe warm, moist air. This helps loosen mucus. Loosely place a warm, wet washcloth over your nose and mouth.

  • Take deep breaths. Deep breaths help open your airway. Take 2 deep breaths and cough 2 or 3 times every hour. Coughing helps get mucus out of your body.

  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids to drink. Liquids help make mucus thin and easier to get out of your body.

  • Gently tap your chest. This helps loosen mucus so it is easier to cough. Lay with your head lower than your chest several times a day and tap your chest.

  • Get plenty of rest. Rest helps your body heal.

How can I prevent CAP?

  • Wash your hands often. Wash your hands with soap and water after you use the bathroom, change a child's diapers, or sneeze. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.

  • Do not smoke. Smoking decreases your lungs' ability to fight infections. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Ask for information if you need help quitting.

  • Get vaccinated. Some types of pneumonia can be prevented with vaccines. You may need a vaccine to help prevent pneumonia. Get a flu vaccine every year as soon as it becomes available. The flu vaccine can help prevent pneumonia caused by the flu.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your symptoms do not get better, or get worse.

  • You are urinating less, or not at all.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You are confused and cannot think clearly.

  • You have increased trouble breathing.

  • Your lips or fingernails turn gray or blue.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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