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A Journal on Internal Medicine

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Panminerva Medica 2006 December;48(4):231-9

language: English

Aspiration pneumonia. Pathophysiological aspects, prevention and management. A review

Petroianni A., Ceccarelli D., Conti V., Terzano C.

Unit of Respiratory Diseases Policlinico Umberto I Fondazione E. Lorillard Spencer Cenci University La Sapienza, Rome, Italy


Aspiration pneumonias occur more frequently than reported and, in many cases, the disease is not recognised. In hospitalised and institutionalised patients with predisposing diseases prompt diagnosis of this complication and correct preventive measures can drastically reduce the worsening of clinical conditions and the deaths due to aspiration pneumonia. Normal airway structure, effective defence mechanisms, and preventive measures are decisive in reducing aspiration episodes. An increased aspiration risk for food, fluids, medications, or secretions may lead to the development of pneumonia. Pneumonia is the most common respiratory complication in all stroke deaths and in mechanical ventilation patients. In addition, the increased incidence of aspiration pneumonia with aging may be a consequence of impairment of swallowing and the cough reflex. Dysphagia, compromised consciousness, invasive procedures, anaesthesia, insufficient oral care, sleep disorders, and vomiting are all risk factors. Aspiration pneumonia includes different characteristic syndromes based on the amount (massive, acute, chronic) and physical character of the aspirated material (acid, infected, lipoid), needing a different therapeutic approach. Chronic patients education and correct health care practices are the keys for preventing the events of aspiration. In patients at risk a clinical and instrumental assessment of dysphagia should be evaluated. Management includes the removal of etiologic factors (drugs, tubes, mobilisation, oral hygiene), supportive care, and in bacterial pneumonias a specific antibiotic therapy for community-acquired or nosocomial events.

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