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Pneumonia is a medical condition typically caused by an infection that results in inflammation in the lungs. Pneumonia symptoms include fever, chills and aches in the muscles, head and chest. A tired feeling and a cough usually accompany pneumonia as well. In general, pneumonia is an easily treated condition. However, when patients have other health concerns or when treatment is put off, pneumonia can become deadly. If a doctor misdiagnoses pneumonia, it can lead to a life-threatening situation.

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How is Pneumonia Usually Diagnosed?

When symptoms of pneumonia first make themselves known, you should consult with a doctor. At the doctor’s office, your doctor will listen to your chest and lungs for the typical cracking, rumbling sounds that come with pneumonia. X-rays are also used to confirm diagnosis and pinpoint the location of the infection. Blood tests may also be done to determine if the pneumonia is caused by bacteria or a virus, the two most common causes.

Can a Doctor Misdiagnose Pneumonia?

Sometimes doctors do make mistakes. They can misread the results of X-rays or blood tests, leading to the wrong medications being prescribed. They can also completely fail to order blood tests or X-rays on the assumption that the pneumonia is actually a different illness. Pneumonia does share symptoms with several other conditions, such as:
  • Influenza, or the flu. The same cough, chills and fever that come with pneumonia are often symptoms of the flu as well. However, the flu, unlike pneumonia, often comes with a runny nose and sore throat. Sometimes pneumonia can be a complication of the flu. The doctor may still be trying to treat the flu when it has already turned to pneumonia. Unfortunately, most flu treatments do not work on pneumonia, allowing the illness to progress basically untreated.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a term that covers different lung conditions resulting from damage to a person’s airways that make it difficult to breathe. Emphysema is one type of COPD; chronic asthmatic bronchitis is another. Symptoms of COPD include coughing, chest tightness and wheezing. Aside from the discomfort and difficulty breathing, COPD and pneumonia aren’t all that similar. However, since COPD is often a result of years of smoking, doctors might misdiagnose a chronic smoker with COPD rather than pneumonia. Again, this can leave the pneumonia untreated as it grows worse.
  • Acute bronchitis does have many of the same symptoms of pneumonia. It is caused by a sudden inflammation in the airways of the lungs and follows a viral respiratory infection. Symptoms include fever, tiredness and a cough. Chest discomfort is also common in acute bronchitis. Without an X-ray and blood tests, a doctor may not be able to tell whether the patient is suffering from acute bronchitis or pneumonia.