Why some People Develop Pneumonia after Surgery

In a condition when the delicate lung tissue becomes acutely infected, there exists the lung disease known as pneumonia.  The infection may be caused by several kinds of bacteria and viruses.  In battling the infection, the alveoli (air sacs in the lungs) fill up with mucus, pus, white blood cells, and other liquids.  This bodily response makes it difficult for oxygen to reach the bloodstream.  It is through the bloodstream that the infection can spread to the entire body.

There are at least a couple reasons why pneumonia is a serious disease, with the first being that the presence of toxic substances in the blood is relatively great.  The other reason is that a person’s life is dependent on the continuous functioning of the lungs; whether involved with disease or not, the lungs must function continuously – day and night.

Some people who underwent surgery were found to have developed pneumonia.  Indeed, why do some people develop pneumonia after surgery?  A person can be vulnerable to pneumonia after going through serious surgery, when a machine may be required to assist breathing.  The reason for this is that the machine may not expand the lungs completely.  Additionally, the pain of a chest or abdominal incision may affect bodily responses that expand and clean the lungs (such as taking deep breaths and coughing).  The use of painkillers, in some cases, adds to the problem.

During the period of recuperation, after undergoing surgery in the abdomen, some patients have been known to experience a malfunctioning of the diaphragm.  Under such a condition, portions of the lungs may, to some extent, collapse.  As this happens, bacteria may invade and pneumonia is likely to develop.

A situation similar to developing pneumonia after surgery involves the elderly who, while recuperating in bed, often are unable to clear their lungs properly.  In this case, particles laden with bacteria can pass from the pharynx through the trachea into the air passages instead of the esophagus.  This problem can also result to pneumonia.

Left untreated, pneumonia can be fatal.  With early and proper use of physician-prescribed antibiotics, most germs that cause pneumonia can be made harmless.  And while the antibiotics are taking effect, building up the patient’s physical vigor with general measures is important to his full recovery.  An instrument used to measure lung capacity and power, called spirometer, can also help prevent the occurrence of pneumonia after surgery.


1. Annals of Internal Medicine, “Who Gets Pneumonia after Surgery?” – http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/full/135/10/S54

2. Wellsphere, “Pneumonia After Surgery” – http://www.wellsphere.com/wellpage/pneumonia-after-surgery

3. The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library, “Introduction:  Pneumonia” – http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec04/ch042/ch042a.html

4. Answers.com, “What causes pneumonia after surgery?” – http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_causes_pneumonia_after_surgery