Pneumonia Diagnosis

With symptoms similar to those of colds, pneumonia usually starts out with a dry cough, general fatigue and headache. Within a few days, signs of pneumonia develop steadily, causing:

  • chest pain
  • fever
  • muscle pains or aches
  • yellow, green, clear or white mucus.

If you start experiencing some combination of these symptoms, make a doctor’s appointment for a proper diagnosis.

What to Expect During a Pneumonia Diagnosis

When you see your doctor for a pneumonia diagnosis, she will first look over your medical history to see if you have any risk factors for pneumonia. Your doctor will also give you a physical exam to assess the severity of your symptoms.

Here are some of the things your doctor will do when performing a physical exam as part of a pneumonia diagnosis:

  • Listen to your breathing for any faint wheezing or breathing impairments that may indicate pneumonia-related lung inflammation.
  • Tap on your chest. If your lungs are healthy, tapping on your chest will produce a thud sound. Alternately, a hollow drum sound indicates a problem.
  • Use a stethoscope to hear if your lungs make a crackling, bubbling or rumbling sound, all of which can indicate fluid accumulation in the lungs. This type of fluid buildup is one of the most common signs of pneumonia.

If your doctor notices that you have breathing troubles or that fluid is accumulating in your lungs, he will likely call for further testing.

Etiology (Cause) of Pneumonia

Etiology is the study of the origins and associated causes of a disease or condition. Pneumonia is a lung infection that can result from:

  • bacteria
  • fungus
  • inhalation of foreign substances
  • viruses.

In most cases, the etiology of pneumonia involves researching bacterial infections.

Further Testing for Pneumonia Diagnosis

A doctor can only suspect you have pneumonia by performing a physical exam and examining your medical history. To give you a proper pneumonia diagnosis, you will need to receive a chest x-ray. The chest x-ray will any lung abnormalities typically caused by pneumonia.

In place of an x-ray, your doctor may also administer other tests to make a pneumonia diagnosis. Other tests for pneumonia include:

  • blood tests: The doctor will examine your white blood cell count to determine if you are suffering from a viral, bacterial or other type of illness.
  • bronchoscophy: When pneumonia patients exhibit a resistance to medication, doctors will use this procedure to get a closer look at the lungs. In a bronchoscophy, a tiny telescope is placed down a person’s throat so that the doctor can see the patient’s breathing passages, as well as the inside of his lungs.
  • mucus analysis: The lab will place a sample of your mucus under a microscope to determine if you have a bacterial or fungal infection. This can help your doctor determine what to prescribe you for your pneumonia.
  • thoracentesis: This diagnostic procedure calls for a small, long needle to be injected between the ribs to collect fluid accumulating outside of the lung in the chest cavity. The lab will then analyze the collected fluid.

The Importance of Early Diagnosis and Treatment

As with many medical conditions, seek medical care if you suspect you have pneumonia. An early pneumonia diagnosis can help you feel better while minimizing the risk of further infection. The longer you wait, the worse your pneumonia may get, which means it will take you longer to recover.


Health Information Publications (2005). How is Pneumonia Diagnosed? Retrieved March 23, 2008, from the Web site.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (2008). Screening and Diagnosis. Retrieved March 23, 2008, from the Web site.

MedicineNet, Inc. (2008). How is pneumonia diagnosed? Retrieved March 23, 2008, from the Web site.