What to do if an individual is coughing up blood?

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Coughing up blood or hemoptysis can be a terrifying ordeal to witness. In most cases, it can also be confusing since one might wonder where the blood actually came from. This symptom can manifest if there is bleeding in the throat or in the large or small airways of the lungs. Many describe the symptoms as spitting up blood-tinged mucus.

The blood that is coughed up is often combined with phlegm and has a bubbly appearance. If the individual is coughing up blood, it does not necessarily indicate lung cancer. The best way to determine the cause is to set an appointment with a doctor.

What are the possible causes?

The usual causes of coughing up blood include irritation in the airways after coughing or an infection. Some of the likely causes of blood-tinged sputum include the following:

  • Pneumonia
  • Inflammation and irritation in the airways due to repeated coughing
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Bronchitis
    Coughing up blood
    The usual causes of coughing up blood include irritation in the airways after coughing or an infection.
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Lung cancer
  • Inhalation of a foreign body
  • Blood clots in the lungs
  • Tuberculosis
  • Bleeding conditions

When is it an emergency?

Coughing up blood can rapidly progress into an emergency. Coughing up more than a teaspoon of blood is considered as a medical emergency. The individual should be taken to the nearest healthcare facility or call for emergency assistance.

Call for an ambulance if the individual starts to experience chest pain, lightheadedness or shortness of breath even if he/she coughed up a trace of blood. The issue is that coughing up blood can rapidly lead to airway obstruction and aspiration of the blood into the lungs.

When to consult a doctor

If the individual is coughing up blood, even a small amount, it is vital to set an appointment with a doctor. Hemoptysis is only a symptom of some individuals diagnosed with lung cancer and there are no other symptoms until the cancer has already spread.

If possible, the individual should bring a sample during the check-up. Make sure that the sample is wrapped with a plastic wrap or wax paper for better preservation.


The treatment depends on the exact cause of the symptoms as well as the amount of blood that was coughed up. Take note that if the individual only coughed up blood once and even in a minimal amount, it is vital to consult a doctor as soon as possible.

In case the individual is actively bleeding, a CT scan is the ideal imaging test to assess the cause. Most cases that involve bleeding in the airways originates from the bronchial arteries and an effective treatment used is bronchial artery embolization.

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