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Coughs (cont.)

Cough Diagnosis

The diagnosis of a cough is based largely on the information you provide. Information necessary to help make an accurate diagnosis includes the duration of the cough, associated signs and symptoms, activities or locations that make the cough worse or better, relation between the cough and time of day, past medical history, and any home therapies already attempted.

  • In an acute cough the doctor may be able to make a diagnosis simply by interviewing the patient, and performing a physical examination. If the patient has an acute cough, chest X-rays typically do not add to the doctor's ability to make a diagnosis. Elderly people, people with weakened immune systems (i.e., from cancer, diabetes, or AIDS), and people with abnormal lung sounds on examination may benefit from an X-ray to check for pneumonia.
  • In a chronic cough, doctors will often rely on the interview and physical examination to aid them in determining what tests, if any, are appropriate in order to make a diagnosis. Many people will receive a chest X-ray to search for problems. Beyond this, other diagnostic tests may be ordered at the doctor's discretion and based on the interview and examination. Some of these tests may be ordered by a doctor, and others will require referral to a specialist. The specialist selected will depend on the suspected source of the cough.
  • It is important that the patient be an active participant in his or own own health care, and discuss with a doctor the purpose of any test ordered and what the expected results will mean.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/19/2016
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