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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Coughing up blood (haemoptysis)


Coughing up large amounts of blood is a medical emergency. Phone 111 for an ambulance immediately.

Most people only cough up small amounts of blood. The blood may look like flecks of blood on a tissue, or it may be mixed in with the mucus (sputum or phlegm), making it look brown.

Coughing up blood can happen by itself or it can come with other symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain, a high temperature or a blocked nose.

Even if you're just coughing up small amounts of blood, you'll need to see a doctor to find out what is wrong. Some of the conditions that can make you cough up blood are serious. It's often difficult to know exactly what the cause is without further tests.

Causes of coughing up blood

Possible causes include:

Occasionally doctors cannot find a cause.

Diagnosing the cause of coughing up blood

Your doctor may be able to find the cause of your coughing up blood by asking you questions and examining you. But you may need tests such as a chest X-ray, blood tests or a sputum sample for cytology or culture (depending on what your doctor thinks the cause might be).

If your doctor suspects a serious cause, they may refer you for a CT scan of your chest or to the hospital to see a hospital specialist.

Treating coughing up blood

If a simple cause is found, you may not need any treatment.

If you have an infection, you may need antibiotics, although most cases of bronchitis and sinusitis are caused by a virus, so you will not need antibiotics.

More serious causes of coughing up blood will need specialised treatment in hospital.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2021.


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