Coughing up mucus is a perfectly normal physiological phenomenon. When people get sick, their bodies produce even more of the thick goo in order to keep airways and passageways lubricated and help to remove and flush away germs. Mucus in general can be a wide variety of different colors, and those coughing up mucus may see shades of green, white, yellow, rust and clear when illness or allergies are present. However, one shade in particular that can be abundantly alarming to find in coughed up mucus is red, where streaks of blood or even clumpy clots can instill panic in unsuspecting sufferers.
Coughing up blood clots or finding streaks of blood in mucus should be alarming. There are a great number of serious health conditions that can be related to it. However, there are interestingly enough some much less serious and even benign causes as well. For instance, crack cocaine users may end up coughing up blood clots after periods of abundant or extended use. And of course, coughing up blood is not uncommon after a locally related trauma or injury. In these causes, bloody phlegm is easily explainable and while it is still a great cause for concern, it is much easier to rule out more ominous causes in these cases.
Interestingly enough one very common cause of finding blood in phlegm matter is the very familiar condition known as bronchitis. In many cases, bronchitis is caused by a virus and thus it is an illness that can include the symptom of coughing up blood clots or finding mucus tinged or streaked with red. However, there are many kinds of bronchitis, and acute irritative bronchitis can be caused by nothing more than severe allergies or a severe allergic reaction to environmental toxins, yet still refers to the inflammatory condition. It is easy to tell if the symptoms are related to acute cases of bronchitis due to illness or allergy however. Unlike chronic bronchitis which by definition lasts for periods of months, acute bronchitis lasts just three to seven days. Thus, if medical treatment has been sought and symptoms cease after a number of days, it is possible that acute bronchitis from various causes including allergies may be to blame.
In fact, while coughing up blood clots or streaks of blood may be an alarming symptom, it is often not enough to really determine the underlying cause. Other symptoms as well as longevity of symptoms and overall health are just as important to finding causation. For instance, a pulmonary embolism diagnosis can easily explain mucus packed with blood remnants, but the symptoms are often sudden in terms of onset and accompanied by other hallmark signs like shortness of breath and rapid breathing. Pulmonary embolism symptoms (PE) also include chest pain and even changes in skin color. In this case, while coughing up blood clots or streaks of blood may present, typically this symptom is just one of many that clearly signals a medical emergency.
The suddenness of these symptoms is only compounded by the fact that for many people who encounter the condition, a history of respiratory illness may not exist. Lung blood clots that cause embolisms often start in other parts of the body, like in the lower parts of the legs. When clots form here, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis, they can break off and head upwards following the circulatory path, where they can be deposited in the lungs. Lung blood clots can quickly lead to embolism and the sudden onset of symptoms including of course, coughing up blood clots and chest pain. While up to one in four people may not survive a sudden PE, the standard form of pulmonary embolism treatment, anticoagulant therapy, is often very effective when medical treatment is sought immediately after symptom onset.
Of course, other problems with the lungs that are less acute in nature and more related to actual illness can cause coughing up blood clots and streaked mucus as well, such as pneumonia. This condition refers to a serious infection of one or both lungs, and it is caused by both bacteria and viruses. Like pulmonary embolisms, pneumonia symptoms often feature swift onset and are severe enough in nature to alert sufferers that something is very wrong. Chills and fever, fast breathing and shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, nausea, and diarrhea, and, of course, a cough are all pneumonia symptoms, and the majority of them are quite severe.
Even more serious in some cases than pneumonia or embolisms are cancers of the lungs, which can also lead to coughing up blood clots. Depending on the stage and severity of the disease, coughing up this blood may be indicative of how much the disease has progressed. Often when related to lung cancer, blood or clots in coughed up mucus can be persistent and regular, and may accompany other symptoms. Unfortunately with lung cancer, this symptom may indicate advanced or later staged disease.
It is never safe to assume that blood clots or blood in the mucus are related to allergies or are in some other way normal. Phlegm or mucus that is bloody that cannot be explained by an acute injury or existing health condition should be treated as a medical emergency and should be evaluated right away. Because of the very wide spectrum of conditions that can relate to blood or clots in the mucus, it is important that a medical professional quickly evaluate the potential problems that may be contributing to symptoms. Additionally, information such as when the symptoms started, how long they have lasted and what other accompanying signs and symptoms are also present are critically essential to making a fast and accurate diagnosis, which in the case of acute life threatening conditions like pulmonary embolisms, can be the difference between being cured and becoming a statistic.