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Atypical Pneumonia

Definition

Pneumonia is a lung infection. It can occur in people of all ages.

Atypical pneumonia is a mild form of the infection. Many with this type of pneumonia can continue normal activities while sick. It is also commonly known as walking pneumonia.

All types of pneumonia are potentially serious conditions. It will require care from your doctor.

The Lungs (Cut-away View)
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Causes

Atypical pneumonia may be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. They tend to be different than the bacteria that cause more traditional forms of pneumonia.

Risk Factors

Factors increase your chance of developing atypical pneumonia include:

  • Contact with someone who has an infection (for mycoplasma and chlamydia)
  • Exposure to water or soil that contains the bacteria (for legionella)
  • Living in closed communities, such as dormitories in boarding schools or colleges, nursing homes, and military barracks
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Lung disease
  • Weakened immune system

Symptoms

Symptoms of atypical pneumonia may include any of the following:

  • General signs of infection such as:
    • Fever (mild)
    • Enlarged lymph nodes
    • Chills
    • Muscle aches and pains
  • Signs of respiratory infection such as:
    • Cough that may produce phlegm
    • Chest pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Fast breathing
  • Sore throat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rash

These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Do not assume they are due to pneumonia. Contact your doctor to discuss your symptoms.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. To look for an infection or specific causes of the infection your doctor may ask for:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Blood cultures
  • Sputum test

Your doctor may also need to take pictures of your lungs. This is done with a chest x-ray.

Pneumonia can cause problems with breathing. This may make it difficult for you to get enough oxygen. To measure the level of oxygen in your blood your doctor may do the following tests:

  • Pulse oximetry
  • Arterial blood gas

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

Antibiotics

Atypical pneumonia can be treated with oral antibiotics. These medications are most often taken at home. However, more severe pneumonia may require antibiotics be delivered by IV in the hospital.

Oxygen

If you are severely ill from pneumonia, you may need extra oxygen. Some patients need to be intubated if their lungs are not working well enough. This is the placement of a tube in your throat. It can provide pressure to help keep your lungs open while delivering oxygen.

If you are diagnosed with pneumonia, follow your doctor's instructions.

Prevention

To help reduce your chances of getting pneumonia, take the following steps:

  • Use good hand-washing techniques.
  • Avoid contact with other ill people.
  • Get treatment for your chronic conditions.

Revision Information

  • American Lung Association

    http://www.lung.org

  • National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease

    http://www.niaid.nih.gov

  • The Canadian Lung Association

    http://www.lung.ca

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Blasi F, Tarsia P, Aliberti S, et al. Chlamydia pneumoniae and mycoplasma pneumoniae. Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2005;26:617-624.

  • Cunha BA. The atypical pneumonias: clinical diagnosis and importance. Clin Microbiol Infect. 2006;12(Suppl)3:12-24.

  • Cunha BA. Atypical pneumonias: current clinical concepts focusing on Legionnaires' disease. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2008;14:183-194. Review

  • Pneumonia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated March 25, 2013. Accessed April 2, 2013.

  • Types of Pneumonia. National Heart Lung Blood Institute (NHLBI) website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pnu/types.html. Updated March 1, 2011. Accessed April 2, 2013.

  • Understanding Pneumonia. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/pneumonia/understanding-pneumonia.html. Accessed April 2, 2013.

  • Thibodeau KP, Viera A.J. Atypical pathogens and challenges in community-acqiured pneumonia. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69:1699-1706.