Pneumonia vs. Walking Pneumonia (cont.)

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Because walking pneumonia was supposed to be a focal point of this article, and I've given my view as to what it is and is not, the rest of this article will be on how walking pneumonia is often viewed by clinicians who diagnose and treat the disease. First, the symptoms of walking pneumonia are mild -- usually a cough that can be frequent with little or no phlegm, a low or absent fever (usually under 101 F), and feeling more tired after normal activities. Some patients may get muscle aches or back aches, an occasional rash, or headaches. The symptoms are present for a few days usually before patients seek medical care because "the symptoms are not too bad but they just seem not to go away." In addition, many patients have additional problems such as sinus infections, sore throat, or asthma.

Most of these symptoms can occur in both adults and children; however, children may appear more short of breath than adults. Many physicians will do a chest X-ray to help obtain evidence for a presumptive diagnosis, but others will not. Mycoplasma pneumoniae is considered the major cause of walking pneumonia by many clinicians, but it is seldom confirmed by any test. Consequently, many clinicians will give an antibiotic such as doxycycline (Vibramycin, Oracea, Adoxa, Atridox) to treat the presumed Mycoplasma infection. If the "walking pneumonia" is due to Mycoplasma, the antibiotic will help rid the person of the infection and make the person less contagious or noncontagious. However, if the cause is not Mycoplasma, the antibiotic may not help at all. In general, walking pneumonia can be contagious for up to about a month if treatment is not given. The symptoms also can last about a month or so if the patient is not treated.

Walking pneumonia can abate without antibiotics and the person recovers with no lingering problems, but occasionally symptoms become worse. Children, pregnant females, the elderly, and immunocompromised patients should seek medical care if they develop symptoms of walking pneumonia because they can more easily progress to the more severe forms of pneumonia. Some people with suppressed immune systems may seem to have walking pneumonia but actually have pneumonia caused by agents like Pneumocystis jiroveci (formerly known as Pneumocystis carinii), a fungal cause of chronic pneumonia that initially causes symptoms that resemble those of walking pneumonia.

In my view, the term "walking pneumonia" just does not give the patient enough information about their symptoms. Patients with this diagnosis should ask their doctors to please explain why they are told this is their problem and what type of follow-up or other problems they should be aware of.

REFERENCE:

Chang, Louise, ed. "Walking Pneumonia." WebMD.com. May 18, 2009. <http://www.webmd.com/lung/walking-pneumonia>.


Last Editorial Review: 5/12/2011 7:53:17 PM