Monday, August 11, 2008

How can you die from pneumonia? Bernie Mac did.

Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs - it can be caused by a virus or by bacteria. There is also a third type of pneumonia that is caused by fungi. Because of the infection, fluid (pus and mucus) collects in the alveoli (air sacs) and that is why people associate pneumonia with having fluid in the lungs. With the infection and the fluid, the linings of the alveoli swell and become less elastic, making it harder for the oxygen to get through.

Most pneumonias are caused by a virus. These types of pneumonia cannot be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics will not kill viruses, nor will they shorten the length of time you are sick. It can be frustrating to find out that you have pneumonia and your doctor not give you anything, but that is how it works with viral pneumonia, unfortunately. Viral pneumonias are, however, usually the less serious of them all.

Bacterial pneumonia is the type that is treated by antibiotics. Fungal pneumonia is treated with anti-fungals.

You can also get pneumonia called aspiration pneumonia. This happens when someone inhales a liquid, food, or chemicals. Many elderly who cannot swallow properly, as well as people who have had strokes, can develop this type of pneumonia easily.

The symptoms of pneumonia can include:

  • laboured breathing
  • rapid breathing
  • painful breathing
  • coughing
  • fever, chills
It is usually diagnosed with symptoms and x-rays. Pneumonia can be idenfied on lung x-rays, usually quite clearly.

So, can someone die from pneumonia? We heard in the news that actor and comedian Bernie Mac died of complications from pneumonia. He was only 50 years old. Most deaths from pneumonia are among the elderly or people with chronic illnesses. Bernie Mac fell into that second category. Apparently, he had sarcoidosis, which made him more vulnerable to illnesses like pneumonia.

When someone dies from "complications of pneumonia," they have died from sepsis, which is the body's toxic response to infections, like pneumonia. In the United States alone, sepsis kills one person every two minutes. For more information, visit or go directly to their page on pneumonia: Sepsis and Pneumonia.

Can pneumonia be prevented? In some cases, yes. When a person has undergone a general anesthetic, often they can't understand and don't like it when their nurses are getting them out of bed just hours after surgery, if it's possible. That's because people who don't move around enough and have had anesthetic can develop pneumonia. The same thing happens if you have a cold. Even though you don't feel like moving around, you should. If an elderly person chokes easily on food, he or she needs to be able to take their time to eat and not be rushed, which ill increase the chances of aspirating food or liquid. In terms of viruses, high risk groups are being encouraged to get vaccinated against certain types of pneumonia. Vaccination doesn't eliminate the risk of developing it, but vaccines do reduce the possibility.


Crabby McSlacker said...

Wow, of all the things I worry about, pneumonia was never one of them!

Sheesh, who knew?

Anonymous said...

I believe Bernie Mac died indirectly from sarcoidosis, a conditiion I also suffer from. Sarcoidosis is a very poorly understood immune disease that weakens the body's immune response, can appear anywhere with the body but frequently affect the lungs. Patients, such as Bernie Mac, are often given prednisone to paliate the myriad symptoms of the disease. Unfortunately, prednisone also further weaken the immune system and the patient can easily contract infections such as pneumonia, which I also contracted among many other infections.

Anonymous said...

This pretty much answered all my questions. My mom is in the hospital right now with pneumonia. She has it really bad. She also has bad asthma, COPD alon with many other conditions.

toms31 said...

Our household was shocked today when someone suddenly died. Your
blog about pneumonia was very helpful. THis is what we think happened. It started with a sore throat, then a lot of coughing and also chills. Has we understood what was happening we would have rushed him to the Hospital. We feel terible that we didn't know how sick he really was.

Anonymous said...

Omg! I feel so bad about that! My friend just died and every one says that this is why she died.

Debi Shultz said...

My 91yr old father is in the hospital right now suffering from pneumonia. He can barely breathe or eat, your information here has helped me understand what is going on with him. Thank you.

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

I am very pleased that this information is helpful. It makes writing this blog very worthwhile. Thank you for leaving your comments.

Anonymous said...

My brother just passed from aspirating pneumonia. He had special needs and was 45. He had pneumonia 3 times in the last 6 months and this time he didn't make it I can't help wonder if there was any way for him to recover from this?

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

I'm sorry to hear about your brother. Sadly, once pneumonia develops into sepsis, the chances of surviving drop with time.

Anonymous said...

An old friend of mine broke her rib anthem doctor said that if she doesnt do the breathing excersises it could cause her lungs to colaps and then she could get pneumonia and possibly die is all that true?

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

That's a good question and it's kind of true, but not quite. She needs to do breathing exercises to expand the lungs as much as possible because if she doesn't mucus or fluid can collect in the lungs. This could become infected, causing pneumonia. So, it's that the lungs will collapse but you want the lungs to be as effective as possible.

Also, yes, it is possible to die from pneumonia - the pneumonia can cause sepsis, which is what can cause death.

Anonymous said...

My brother just died from pneumonia. He got sick with what he thought was the flu and died a few days later. He was in his early 40's. We had no idea he was that sick but unfortunately he lived far away from us so we couldn't easily get to him to check on him. It has been a real shock and I'll grieve for him for the rest of my life. It doesn't seem possible that pneumonia could kill someone so quickly but my brother is proof that it can. Please, everyone, take care of yourselves and take flu like symptoms can easily turn into something worse.

Anonymous said...

My dad died 2 days ago. The coroner has said it was pneumonia - but he was in hospital with bilateral pneumonia in December and had his lungs drained etc. When he went home a week before Xmas he was put on oxygen 24 hours a day and we were eventually told it would take 8 weeks for him to recover so thought he would mend. My brother saw him at lunchtime and I spoke to him the evening before he died. He was about himself something to eat so had not lost his apetite. He spoke to others on the phone too. We knew he was not feeling great but had no idea he could die so suddenly. I know this is silly but I just need to know what he may have experienced all on his own that night. It is unbearable to think he was on his own; I so would have wanted to be there for him. He was about to have one of those buzzer alarms fitted so he could get help at night but it was too late. I wonder if he chose not to ring us or just couldn't. Would he have been struggling and panicking or would he have lost consciousness and died in his sleep? He was found by a carer who had started going in each morning since his return from hospital and a lovely 10 day stint with us over the festive season. How badly may he have suffered?

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

I'm very sorry to hear about your father. Your thoughts about what his last hours were like are perfectly normal. We all seem to wonder. However, I'm afraid I can't help you as I really don't know. It's entirely possible that he went to sleep and just didn't wake up. That happens very often and if he wasn't uncomfortable beforehand that you know about, it sounds likely.
I'm sorry. I wish I could be more helpful.

Anonymous said...

My great grandfather passed of what is referred to as three day pneumonia. He was healthy but worked on the lawn during a light rain. He died three days later. I offer my condolences to all here who's loved one passed. My sister lost two coworkers within 2 weeks from pneumonia. You don't realize how grave this illness can be until it's too late.

Anonymous said...

My son died in march...... went to 2 drs and to er 3 times with complaints of chest and back pain...sent away each time...only 1 xray done.informed us there was nothing to worry. breathing treatments... his illness was not taken seriously by any of the medical staff we saw..I am a devasted and heartbroken son had illness that could have been treated at home with proper diagnosis. To those of you reading this..don't stop at a 2nd opinion..get a10th medical opinion if that what it takes.

Ray Thomas - UK said...


My dad passed away today of Pneumonia. Unfortunately he died before anyone made it to the hospital.

My mum died in the Same hospital 4 years ago

I don't think he suffered - We were told that he went in his sleep.

It all started with a UTI 2 months ago..
last week he was normal " swearing and wanting to go home "

Today he has gone and weighed no more that a few stone

I miss him ..

Was good to read your helped

Basildon (UK)

Anonymous said...

My sister passed away in her sleep in March, 2014. She was a young 55. She was admitted to the hospital initially with bronchitis, was released and within 4 to 5 days was readmitted with pneumonia. There was talk of it being staph pneumonia, which was changed by the hospital. She was only in the hospital 5 or 6 days, sent home and passed away in her sleep no more than 5 days later. My heart is broken. I talked to her the night before she passed and she told me she may have to go back in as she was not feeling well. I begged her to go back that night, but she didn't go. I will always wonder if she picked up the staph in the hospital when she went in with bronchitis, but we will never know. I miss her more than words can say, she was so special to me. Heaven has a new angel and I know that is where she is. I just wish she had gone back, maybe she would still be with us. I don't think I will ever get over this. My heart is broken.

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

I'm so sorry.

Anonymous said...

My wife has had Aspiration pneumonia 6 times now since may. She just got out of the hosp a few days ago. Of those 6 times, she was hospitalized 3 with this stay being her longest yet. Her lung doc has mentioned End Stage this time. She has no stomach but does have this pouch. She had gastric bypass back in 1985. Weird thing about all of this is we both quit smoking over 2 years ago. Just frustrated I guess and the thought of losing her is tearing me apart. She is just 54.Thanks for letting post here

Roseshel Garriott said...

Marjike...I think your name is beautiful!!! I also thank you for all this information. As I lay in bed with bacterial pneumonia, I am trying to take it easy, drink my fluids, take my medicine and not rush myself to get better. I can see that this can take time. I am 41-years-old and usually in GREAT health, but this has been kicking my butt. I can get up and walk around for maybe 5 minutes at a time, then it's back to bed to rest. I am usually very athletic and active, so this is truly a test for me to just 'be still' and patient in getting better. I am also a medical professional myself, so it is helpful for me to see how my patients must feel sometimes. Thank you for the wonderful information on this page. I am also so VERY sorry for those of you who have suffered loss. This might make some of you feel better...I can tell you that while I have been sick, I saw some of my dead relatives in what was like a dream (but also, NOT like a dream...seemed very real). This was a night my husband thought they had lost me. While I was "dreaming," it was VERY peaceful. I feel like those who died...THEY felt peaceful, too. I don't believe they suffered. May your heavy hearts heal soon, and may the Lord richly bless you.

M H said...

My husband was diagnosed with Stage IV Malignant Melanoma in February 2011 and was given 6-9 months. He had a few hospitalizations, a stay in rehab, and then we had home care come into the house while I was at work. We were so proud of him, his strength, and progress. Just after Christmas, he wasn't sounding (respiratory) so good and I kept telling his visiting nurse and doctors that I thought he had pneumonia. They all ignored me or said, "Well, you know, he does have cancer." In mid-January 2012, he woke up on a Saturday morning (day after he had a blood transfusion) at 2:30am saying he couldn't breathe. The ambulance took him to the hospital for what we thought would be just another hospitalization. Diagnosis? Pneumonia. Then on Sunday, he threw a blood clot to his lungs and coded. They brought him back and transferred him to the critical care unit. He was there a few days, had a feeding tube placed (he was eating on his own before) and a stent of some sort. I never left his side the whole time he was in the CCU. Thursday morning we were talking, joking, he was watching TV, people were visiting him. At 10:30am, he made a joke, I said I love you, and he replied I love you. At 12 noon, he had passed away. How can someone be talking and joking and then less than 2 hours later, be dead? I'm still racking my brain on this 31.5 months later. I just don't understand. Maybe you can shed some light on this? Thank you very much.

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

Hello MH, thank you for reading my blog post and leaving a comment. i'm so sorry to read about your husband.

When I was working with patients, I did -sadly - see some die very quickly. THey were seemingly fine one moment and then gone within hours, sometimes without any indication that this was going to happen.

I can't comment on what happened in your husband's case because I don't know his history, nor do I have his records or any observations of my own. All I can say is that it does happen and it is so very shocking for the family when it does.

I'm sorry.

sfoss said...

My step father was just diagnosed with healthcare associated pneumonia. He had bypass surgery in April 2014 and to make a long story short had 2 more surgeries between May 25 and July 25. He was in the hospital, nursing home, long term acute care facility and then rehab from May 25 through Oct. 8. He was sent home on IV antibiotics and a drain in his chest and diagnosed with sternal osteomyelitis. Now the last two weeks he has been hospitalized twice. The first time for SOB and crackly lungs. He went home on Levaquin and Daptomycin (which he has been on since about December 20) He was on Vacomycin from October 6 - December 12 but his kidney (he only has one) couldn't handle it anymore. Then after being home for about 10 hours he called because he had fallen and couldn't get up. When I got there he looked horrible! I checked his blood pressure and it was 60/43 so I called the ambulance. My main reason is he doctors seem extremely concerned and have asked me if he has talked about quitting treatment. He is 67 years old and also has COPD. They are now trying Miripin with Vancomycin for 2-3 weeks. The doc said if this doesn't work we are in trouble. I didn't want to ask what he meant by this in front of my dad. I realize he is very sick but would like some insight on this "healthcare pneumonia" and the severity of it. Should I be spending as much time as possible with him as this could very well be the end My brother and I administer the meds 3x day and take care of his 2 drains and picc line. But should I be preparing myself this could end badly?

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

Wow- your dad has gone through a lot. Of course, I can't say for sure but it sounds to me like he has sepsis: infection, pneumonia, low blood pressure.

I've seen the sickest of people pull through and those who I expected to be fine, deteriorate very quickly, so it really is impossible to say what may happen here. But, if I were in your shoes, I would assume the worst and hope for the best. I know that this isn't much help and I do wish I could offer something more concrete. I'm sorry.

Larry Travis said...

I am 67 year old male, in excellent health and very active when I got a cold which went into my chest and couldn't breathe. First trip to hospital by ambulance ER sent me home. Second trip 3 days later was admitted with very bad bilateral bacterial pneumonia. Lost 18 pounds in one week, given antiobotics intravenously for 10 days and sent home. Have been home for 2 weeks, regaining weight, still weak but can walk farther every day. Last day in hospital blood pressure dropped from 125/82 to 98/63.
Pulse at 55
Why did it drop so suddenly? Doctor joked about having Bp of baby. BP still at 110/65.
Lungs still have fluid and coughing green stuff.
Should I demand to see specialist or will this just take time?

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

Hi Larry - I really can't give you advice as to whether or not you should seek further care or wait; that would not be fair to you since I don't know you or your medical history.

That being said, I always suggest that if someone is concerned about their health, it is best to be safe than sorry. If you are concerned enough to ask for advice, perhaps this means you should push for more assessments.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. I just found out that my 66 year old brother died in his sleep from pneumonia. He had been coughing and I told him to go to the doctor but he never did. I live 1500 miles away from him and couldn't check on him, I feel so guilty.

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

Please don't feel guilty. We can't make our siblings do things they choose not to do. I'm so sorry that this happened.

Melody Kruckenberg said...

I am so glad I found your blog. My 76 year old mother died a few months ago (May 2, 2015). The cause of death listed on her death certificate - pneumonia. I am having a terrible time accepting this and beat myself up over it every day. She lived with me due to having dementia. About 18 hours before she passed away she ate a huge supper (3 helpings) and later was outside chasing her kitty around in the yard. During the night she told me she couldn't sleep and was burping a lot. I didn't think much of it due to those 3 helpings at supper having a lot of green peppers and onions. In the morning she told me the same thing - she didn't sleep much and was gassy. I asked her if she was in any pain and she replied "no". Just tired and uncomfortable. I gave her her morning meds, gave her a glass of water and told her to go back to bed. Soon thereafter she began coughing. I gave her some more water and then some cough syrup. I also checked to see if she had a fever; which she did not. She also was prone to panic attacks and it seemed to me she was having one so I had her breathe in through her nose and out through her mouth with me several times. This seemed to calm her down and help somewhat. I had to leave for a business appointment for about an hour and a half (she could be left alone for short periods of time with no problem) and told told her if she was still not feeling up to par I would take her to the walk-in clinic when I got back. She was ready to go when I got home and told me she was feeling very weak and out of breath. She walked to the car with my help and my boyfriend drove us to the clinic at 11:15 am. As soon as we arrived she began to throw up a small amount of pinkish phlegm. The nurse took her vitals - no fever, blood pressure was 110/60 but her pulse and respirations were way off and her blood oxygen level was crazy low. They whisked her into ER and she was dead by 2:15. How can someone go from eating a huge supper and running around the yard to dying from pneumonia within about 18 hours? What did I miss? I had her to the doctor less than a month earlier for a check-up. She was up to date on her pneumonia vaccination. Earlier that week I had her to her optometrist on Tuesday, a home health care aide visited her on Wednesday, and I took her to the dentist on Thursday. She died on Saturday. All those health care people who saw her that week apparently didn't think she was ill either. Oh yeah, one more thing - the attending physician in ER showed me her chest X-ray. He said her lungs were filled with tumors (he said most likely malignant) as well as pneumonia. He didn't think the cancer originated in her lungs but didn't know where. How can someone with cancer go to the doctor numerous times throughout the year and not have it diagnosed? She had regular mammograms, Pap smears, and had both a CT Scan of her abdomen and a colonoscopy 2 years ago. I am devastated and feel responsible since I was supposed to be taking care of her. Have you ever heard of pneumonia killing someone so quickly?

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

Hello Melody - I'm so sorry to read of how you lost your mother and at how fast it happened. Sadly, pneumonia can lead to sepsis, which in turn can move so very quickly. when someone dies from an infection they actually die from sepsis, the body's toxic response to infection.

What happens is when people get an infection, like pneumonia, a bladder infection, or even in a cut, their body's immune system tries to fight it. However, in some cases, the immune system goes into overdrive and starts to attack the body itself, rather than just the infection. The medical director of Sepsis Alliance compares it to friendly fire. When this happens, if the sepsis isn't recognized and treated quickly enough, it develops into septic shock and can cause death. For some people, this occurs incredibly fast.

Please don't blame yourself for what happened. It truly sounds like there is nothing else you could have done for your mother. It sounds like you did your best and took great care of her.