What Causes Someone to Cough Up Blood?

September 16, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Peter Doss, M.D. contributes to topics such as Diagnostic Radiology.

Peter Doss, M.D., diagnostic and interventional radiology specialist at Bayshore Medical Center, wants to be very clear about one thing: Any time you cough up blood, it requires immediate medical attention.

“When people start to vomit large amounts of blood, it’s extremely upsetting, so people usually seek medical care right away. That’s not something people really ignore,” Dr. Doss says. But even a small amount of blood should not be ignored. It could be an underlying sign that something bad is happening to the body.

What Might Be Causing It

It’s important for a doctor to determine the site of the bleeding, then determine the cause. Possible causes of coughing up blood include:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Lung cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbation
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Drug use
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in an artery in the lung)
  • Tuberculosis
  • Varices (abnormal veins that create extremely thin walls around the stomach and esophagus) as a result of liver failure

Regardless of the cause, the fallout of coughing up blood can be deadly. If the airway gets obstructed by too much blood, a person can drown in their own fluids, Dr. Doss says. “You have to secure the airway very quickly by putting an endotracheal tube in the throat to make sure the throat stays open, the airway stays open and the patient can keep breathing,” he says.

No matter the underlying cause, Dr. Doss says, bleeding from the mouth is not something to ever ignore. If you begin to cough up blood, call your doctor right way and he or she can advise you on next steps—making an appointment with your doctor or going straight to an emergency department.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.