Pneumonia Classification

Pneumonias can be classified in several ways. Pathologists originally classified them according to the anatomic changes that were found in the lungs during autopsies. As more became known about the microorganisms causing pneumonia, a microbiologic classification arose, and with the advent of x-rays, a radiological classification. Another important system of classification is the combined clinical classification, which combines factors such as age, risk factors for certain microorganisms, the presence of underlying lung disease and underlying systemic disease, and whether the person has recently been hospitalized.

Early classification schemes

Initial descriptions of pneumonia focused on the anatomic or pathologic appearance of the lung, either by direct inspection at autopsy or by its appearance under a microscope.

  • A ''lobar'' pneumonia is an infection that only involves a single lobe, or section, of a lung. Lobar pneumonia is often due to ''Streptococcus pneumoniae'' (though ''Klebsiella pneumoniae'' is also possible.)
  • ''Multilobar'' pneumonia involves more than one lobe, and it often causes a more severe illness.
  • Bronchial pneumonia affects the lungs in patches around the tubes (bronchi or bronchioles).
  • ''Interstitial'' pneumonia involves the areas in between the alveoli, and it may be called "interstitial pneumonitis." It is more likely to be caused by viruses or by atypical bacteria.

The discovery of x-rays made it possible to determine the anatomic type of pneumonia without direct examination of the lungs at autopsy and led to the development of a radiological classification. Early investigators distinguished between typical lobar pneumonia and atypical (e.g. Chlamydophila) or viral pneumonia using the location, distribution, and appearance of the opacities they saw on chest x-rays. Certain x-ray findings can be used to help predict the course of illness, although it is not possible to clearly determine the microbiologic cause of a pneumonia with x-rays alone.

With the advent of modern microbiology, classification based upon the causative microorganism became possible. Determining which microorganism is causing an individual's pneumonia is an important step in deciding treatment type and length. Sputum cultures, blood cultures, tests on respiratory secretions, and specific blood tests are used to determine the microbiologic classification. Because such laboratory testing typically takes several days, microbiologic classification is usually not possible at the time of initial diagnosis.

Combined clinical classification

Traditionally, clinicians have classified pneumonia by clinical characteristics, dividing them into "acute" (less than three weeks duration) and "chronic" pneumonias. This is useful because chronic pneumonias tend to be either non-infectious, or mycobacterial, fungal, or mixed bacterial infections caused by airway obstruction. Acute pneumonias are further divided into the classic bacterial bronchopneumonias (such as ''Streptococcus pneumoniae''), the atypical pneumonias (such as the interstitial pneumonitis of ''Mycoplasma pneumoniae'' or ''Chlamydia pneumoniae''), and the aspiration pneumonia syndromes.

Chronic pneumonias, on the other hand, mainly include those of Nocardia, Actinomyces and Blastomyces dermatitidis, as well as the granulomatous pneumonias (Mycobacterium tuberculosis and atypical mycobacteria, Histoplasma capsulatum and Coccidioides immitis).

The combined clinical classification, now the most commonly used classification scheme, attempts to identify a person's risk factors when he or she first comes to medical attention. The advantage of this classification scheme over previous systems is that it can help guide the selection of appropriate initial treatments even before the microbiologic cause of the pneumonia is known. There are two broad categories of pneumonia in this scheme: community-acquired pneumonia and hospital-acquired pneumonia. A recently introduced type of healthcare-associated pneumonia (in patients living outside the hospital who have recently been in close contact with the health care system) lies between these two categories.

Community-acquired pneumonia

Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) is infectious pneumonia in a person who has not recently been hospitalized. CAP is the most common type of pneumonia. The most common causes of CAP vary depending on a person's age, but they include ''Streptococcus pneumoniae'', viruses, the atypical bacteria, and ''Haemophilus influenzae''. Overall, ''Streptococcus pneumoniae'' is the most common cause of community-acquired pneumonia worldwide. Gram-negative bacteria cause CAP in certain at-risk populations. CAP is the fourth most common cause of death in the United Kingdom and the sixth in the United States. The term "walking pneumonia" has been used to describe a type of community-acquired pneumonia of less severity (because of the fact that the sufferer can continue to "walk" rather than require hospitalization). Walking pneumonia is usually caused by the atypical bacteria mycoplasma pneumonia.

Hospital-acquired pneumonia

Hospital-acquired pneumonia, also called nosocomial pneumonia, is pneumonia acquired during or after hospitalization for another illness or procedure with onset at least 72 hrs after admission. The causes, microbiology, treatment and prognosis are different from those of community-acquired pneumonia. Up to 5% of patients admitted to a hospital for other causes subsequently develop pneumonia. Hospitalized patients may have many risk factors for pneumonia, including mechanical ventilation, prolonged malnutrition, underlying heart and lung diseases, decreased amounts of stomach acid, and immune disturbances. Additionally, the microorganisms a person is exposed to in a hospital are often different from those at home . Hospital-acquired microorganisms may include resistant bacteria such as MRSA, ''Pseudomonas'', ''Enterobacter'', and ''Serratia''. Because individuals with hospital-acquired pneumonia usually have underlying illnesses and are exposed to more dangerous bacteria, it tends to be more deadly than community-acquired pneumonia. Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) is a subset of hospital-acquired pneumonia. VAP is pneumonia which occurs after at least 48 hours of intubation and mechanical ventilation.

Other types of pneumonia

  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
SARS is a highly contagious and deadly type of pneumonia which first occurred in 2002 after initial outbreaks in China. SARS is caused by the SARS coronavirus, a previously unknown pathogen.
BOOP is caused by inflammation of the small airways of the lungs. It is also known as cryptogenic organizing pneumonitis (COP).
Eosinophilic pneumonia is invasion of the lung by eosinophils, a particular kind of white blood cell. Eosinophilic pneumonia often occurs in response to infection with a parasite or after exposure to certain types of environmental factors.
  • Chemical pneumonia
Chemical pneumonia (usually called chemical pneumonitis) is caused by chemical toxicants such as pesticides, which may enter the body by inhalation or by skin contact. When the toxic substance is an oil, the pneumonia may be called ''lipoid pneumonia''.
  • Aspiration pneumonia
Aspiration pneumonia (or aspiration pneumonitis) is caused by aspirating foreign objects which are usually oral or gastric contents, either while eating, or after reflux or vomiting which results in bronchopneumonia. The resulting lung inflammation is not an infection but can contribute to one, since the material aspirated may contain anaerobic bacteria or other unusual causes of pneumonia. Aspiration is a leading cause of death among hospital and nursing home patients, since they often cannot adequately protect their airways and may have otherwise impaired defenses.
Dust pneumonia describes disorders caused by excessive exposure to dust storms, particularly during the Dust Bowl in the United States. With dust pneumonia, dust settles all the way into the alveoli of the lungs, stopping the cilia from moving and preventing the lungs from ever clearing themselves.
  • Necrotizing pneumonia, although overlapping with many other classifications, includes pneumonias that cause substantial necrosis of lung cells, and sometimes even lung abscess. Implicated bacteria are extremely commonly anaerobic bacteria, with or without additional facultatively anaerobic ones like Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Streptococcus pyogenes. Type 3 pneumococcus is uncommonly implicated.

Symptoms of pneumonia need immediate medical evaluation. Physical examination by a health care provider may reveal fever or sometimes low body temperature, an increased respiratory rate, low blood pressure, a high heart rate, or a low oxygen saturation, which is the amount of oxygen in the blood as indicated by either pulse oximetry or blood gas analysis. People who are struggling to breathe, who are confused, or who have cyanosis (blue-tinged skin) require immediate attention.

Physical examination of the lungs may be normal, but often shows decreased expansion of the chest on the affected side, bronchial breathing on auscultation with a stethoscope (harsher sounds from the larger airways transmitted through the inflamed and consolidated lung), and rales (or crackles) heard over the affected area during inspiration. Percussion may be dulled over the affected lung, but increased rather than decreased vocal resonance (which distinguishes it from a pleural effusion).

Further Reading



This article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article on "Pneumonia" All material adapted used from Wikipedia is available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Wikipedia® itself is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011

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