Please register or login to view the chart

Haemoptysis ( coughing up blood )

Haemoptysis is expectoration of blood from the lower respiratory tract below the glottis.


In primary care the common causes of haemoptysis are acute and chronic bronchiectasis , TB , lung cancer , pneumonia and bronchiectasis ( BMJ best practice )


Infections – common cause in up to 60-70 % cases Pulmonary tuberculosis Pneumonia Bronchiectasis Chronic bronchitis Periodontal disease Sinusitis Tracheitis Lung abscess Fungal infections HIV.


Neoplasm -Lung cancer Lung metastasis Endobronchial tumours.


Vascular – AV malformations Arterio-bronchial fistula Ruptured thoracic aneurysm.


Autoimmune – Systemic lupus erythematosus Goodpasture syndrome Wegener’s granulomatosis.


Cardiovascular – Pulmonary hypertension Pulmonary embolus LVF Severe mitral stenosis.


Trauma – complications of procedures as transbronchial lung biopsy , FNAC Lung contusion , penetrating injury Oral trauma epistaxis.


Children – lower resp tr infections bronchiectasis ( particularly in cystic fibrosis ) foreign body aspiration congenital cardiopathy.


Drugs – crack cocaine anticoagulants / antiplatelet


Haematological – coagulopathies thrombocytopenia plateket dysfunction


Iatrogenic/ Idiopathic or cryptogenic diagnosis of exclusion can be seen in 7 % to 34 % of cases.


Terminology – From Greek – spitting blood 
( haima is blood and ptysis is spitting )


Pseudohaemoptysis – expectorated blood that does not arise from the lungs or the bronchial tubes blood aspirated into the lungs for e.g from nasopharynx , sinuses or oral cavity This can be from the gastrointestinal tract and upper respiratory tract.


Haematemesis – vomiting of fresh or altered blood nausea and vomiting coffee ground appearance ie blood tends to be darker and may contain mixed food particles.


Non- massive – heterogenous criteria – what is massive or non-massive important to remember that lungs have dual blood supply


Massive haemoptysis- Ill defined criteria as to what is massive / severe haemoptysis -it can be usually based on
○ amount of blood expectorated in the last 24-48 hrs for e.g 100-600 mls in 24 hrs
○ the consequence of blood loss
○ interventions used to control the situation Major medical emergency One of the most challenging conditions encountered in critical care Massive haemoptysis is seen in less than 5 % of cases but mortality exceeds 50 %


Assessment – r/o pseudohemoptysis colour / consistency ( persistent , recurrent ) severity – is it
○ blood-streaked sputum
○ gross haemoptysis
○ massive haemoptysis time frame ( intermittent / constant ) ensure that the patient is haemodynamically stable comorbid conditions medications ( for e.g anticoagulants ) travel history ( infections )


CVS – orthopnoea ankle/ leg swelling known heart problems.


Cancer – enquire about constitutional symptoms risk factors for lung cancer occupational exposure toxic contact

In the US about 20 % of patients with lung cancer will experience some degree of haemoptysis during their disease course


Pulmonary embolism/ infarction – sudden onset with associated symptoms as SOB , pleuritic chest pain ,tachypnoea , tachycardia , leg swelling and associated risk factors 
( see chart on PE )


Examination – An examination in case of non-massive haemoptysis may be normal CVS status Respiratory system Vitals as temp , HR , RR , oxygen , BP Nutritional status Finger clubbing , lymph nodes , skin ( bruising , pallor rash etc ) R/O criteria for admission as
○ high risk massive bleed
○ gas exchane abnormalities for e.g RR > 30 oxygen saturation < 88 %
○ haemodynamic instability reflected by tachycardia , tachyhpnoea , hypotnesion
○ co-existant other respiratory patholgies for e.g previous 
pneumonectomy , COPD
○ other comorbidities as IHD , need for anticoagulants / anti platelet agents.


Investigations – sputum for microscopy , culture and acid fast bacilli ( if infectious cause suspected ) 
cytology – neoplasm
 ESR – can be elevated in infections , autoimmune conditions and may be elevated in neoplasia
 FBC (may indicate infection , anaemia or an underlying haematological condition as leukemia ) 
Us&Es , clotting screen
 consider vasculitis screen by asking for ANCA or ANA
 urinalysis ( vasculitis , glomerulonephritis )


Cardiac- ECG , Echo

CXR – important first line imaging & recommended for all
( cheap and easily accessible ) may give clues to conditions as TB , malignancy , bronchiectasis , aspergilloma and lung abscess it may fail to reveal a cause in up to 46 % of patients as much as 10 % of pulmonary malignancies are occult on CXR , 96 % of which will be detected by CT CXR has limited sensitivity in determining the the side of bleeding Consider CT if the patient is at risk of malignancy for e.g age > 40 and > 30 pack yrs smoking.


Specialist tests – CT chest- type of CT indicated will differ based on clinical situation Angio MDCT Diagnostic bronchoscopy


Referral – Despite haemoptysis being a common complain ( prevalence is difficult to estimate ) there are currently no national guideline to help with managing patients presenting to primary care with haemoptysis Once we have excluded criteria for admission management is aimed at finding an underlying cause
 In younger patients with no associated co-morbidities / risk factors and the coughing is secondary to vigorous coughing – reassurance with safety netting may adequate
 Low risk patient with a normal CXR consider close monitoring and appropriate oral antibiotics on outpatient basis as clinically indicated
○ ie treat and refer to a specialist persistent haemoptysis or high risk malignancy- refer promptly


Information from Top Doctors co UK Coughing up blood (haemoptysis): what is it, symptoms, causes, prevention and treatment | Top Doctors

NHS on haemoptysis Coughing up blood (blood in phlegm) – NHS (

Patient UK – an excellent review Coughing Up Blood (Haemoptysis) | Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment | Patient

NI Direct on blood in phlegm Coughing up blood (blood in phlegm) | nidirect

Medline Plus coughing up blood Coughing up blood: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia



  1. Ong, Zi Yang Trevor et al. “A simplified approach to haemoptysis.” Singapore medical journal vol. 57,8 (2016): 415-8. doi:10.11622/smedj.2016130
  2. Fartoukh, M., Khalil, A., Louis, L. et al. An integrated approach to diagnosis and management of severe haemoptysis in patients admitted to the intensive care unit: a case series from a referral centre. Respir Res 8, 11 (2007).
  3. Larici, Anna Rita et al. “Diagnosis and management of hemoptysis.” Diagnostic and interventional radiology (Ankara, Turkey) vol. 20,4 (2014): 299-309. doi:10.5152/dir.2014.13426
  4. Assessment of Haemoptysis BMJ Best Practice Assessment of haemoptysis – Diagnosis Approach | BMJ Best Practice
  5. Cordovilla R, Bollo de Miguel E, Nunez ˜ Ares A, Cosano Povedano FJ, Herráez Ortega I, Jiménez Merchán R. Diagnóstico y tratamiento de la hemoptisi. Arch Bronconeumol. 2016;52:368–377
  6. Gershman E, Guthrie R, Swiatek K, Shojaee S. Management of hemoptysis in patients with lung cancer. Ann Transl Med. 2019 Aug;7(15):358. doi: 10.21037/atm.2019.04.91. PMID: 31516904; PMCID: PMC6712256. ( Abstract )
  7. Earwood JS, Thompson TD. Hemoptysis: evaluation and management. Am Fam Physician. 2015 Feb 15;91(4):243-9. PMID: 25955625.
  8. Ong ZY, Chai HZ, How CH, Koh J, Low TB. A simplified approach to haemoptysis. Singapore Med J. 2016 Aug;57(8):415-8. doi: 10.11622/smedj.2016130. PMID: 27549136; PMCID: PMC4993964.
  9. Blasi, F., & Tarsia, P. (2016-04). Pathophysiology and causes of haemoptysis. In Oxford Textbook of Critical Care. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 14 Mar. 2021, from
  10. Sébastien Gagnon, Nicholas Quigley, Hervé Dutau, Antoine Delage, Marc Fortin, “Approach to Hemoptysis in the Modern Era”, Canadian Respiratory Journal, vol. 2017, Article ID 1565030, 11 pages, 2017.
  11. Haemoptysis: Diagnosis and Treatment K Hurt & D Bilton Acute Medicine 2012; 11(1): 39-45
  12. Michele MondoniPaolo CarlucciSara JobElena Maria ParazziniGiuseppe CipollaMatteo PaganiFrancesco TursiLuigi NegriAlessandro FoisSara CanuAntonella ArcaduPietro PirinaMartina BonifaziStefano GaspariniSilvia MaraniAndrea Claudio ComelFranco RavennaSimone DoreFausta AlfanoGiuseppe Francesco Sferrazza PapaFabiano Di MarcoStefano CentanniGiovanni Sotgiu
  13. Soares Pires F, Teixeira N, Coelho F, Damas C. Hemoptysis–etiology, evaluation and treatment in a university hospital. Rev Port Pneumol. 2011 Jan-Feb;17(1):7-14. English, Portuguese. doi: 10.1016/s2173-5115(11)70004-5. PMID: 21251478.


Related Charts:

Add Your Comments

Your email address will not be published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

A4 Medicine  - Search Less and Learn More

Welcome to the A4 medicine community where we are constantly working to provide exceptional educational material to primary health care professionals. Subscribe to our website for complete access to our A4 Charts. They are aesthetically designed charts that contain 300 (plus and adding) common and complex medical conditions with the all information required for primary care in one single page that can help you in consultation/practice and exam.

Additionally, you will get complete access for our Learn From Experts : A4 Webinar Series in which domain experts share the video explainer presentation on one medical condition in one hour for the primary care. And you will also get a hefty discount on our publications and upcoming digital products.

We are giving a lifetime flat 30% discount to our first thousand users, discount code already applied to checkout.