Hillary Clinton's Pneumonia: Expert Q&A

By Ashley Hayes
WebMD Health News

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has modified her campaign schedule after revealing that she is being treated for pneumonia. Clinton, 68, seemed unsteady as she abruptly departed a Sept. 11 memorial service Sunday.

At the time, her campaign said in a statement she was "overheated." Later, Clinton doctor Lisa R. Bardack, MD, told reporters she was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday. "She was put on antibiotics, and advised to rest and modify her schedule," Bardack said, but added Clinton was "rehydrated and recovering nicely."

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can trigger cough, fever and trouble breathing. It can be caused by a virus or bacteria, and often clears up in two or three weeks. For some including older adults, however, pneumonia can be very serious, even fatal.

Clinton told CNN in an interview Monday night she didn't think her pneumonia was "going to be that big a deal."

"I was supposed to rest five days — that's what they told me Friday — and I didn't follow that very wise advice," she said. "So I just want to get this over and done with and get back on the trail as soon as possible."

WebMD spoke to Wayne Tsuang, MD, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic, for more details on pneumonia and pneumonia patients' recovery. Tsuang has not evaluated Clinton.

WebMD: Clinton seemed unsteady on her feet as she left the memorial service Sunday, and some media outlets reported she almost collapsed. Could pneumonia cause this?

Tsuang: It certainly could. Having pneumonia, or having an infection, could lead to dehydration, and with dehydration, your blood pressure could be lower. That could lead to something like being unsteady on your feet. Overheating could also lead to dehydration.

WebMD: Is it possible Clinton has 'walking pneumonia?' What's the difference?

Tsuang: It could be a walking pneumonia. A walking pneumonia refers to a specific type of organism causing the infection, called a mycoplasma. It causes a lot of pneumonia in young folks. It has all the classic (pneumonia) symptoms and lingers for a few weeks, but people eventually recover. Young, healthy people can recover without treatment, but for most patients we'd recommend treatment.

Only about 50% of the time can we identify the organism that leads to pneumonia. The rest of the time, we're treating empirically, covering our bases with supportive care to help the patient get better.

WebMD: Pneumonia can be serious for older adults. What would be your advice for a patient Clinton's age?

Tsuang: Someone who's 68 years old with pneumonia, obviously we'd try to treat it as an outpatient. If they're being treated as an outpatient, oral antibiotics, we'd encourage a lot of fluid intake and also rest. And then once the patients recover, make sure they're up to date on vaccines – the seasonal flu vaccine and the pneumonia vaccine, which is recommended for most patients over 65.

WebMD: How long does it take to recover from pneumonia?

Tsuang: It takes a couple of weeks for more anyone to recover from pneumonia. It depends on how healthy a patient is and their condition when they got it.

WebMD: Does this say anything about Clinton's overall health?

Tsuang: Not being part of her health care team or reviewing her medical records, it's hard to say. Certainly anyone her age, on a very strenuous travel schedule, traveling quite a bit, could increase their risk of getting a community-acquired infection. Somebody who's traveling and on the campaign trail as much as the candidates are, they are in some sense predisposed to health problems. But it wouldn't necessarily indicate that she is in poor health overall.

WebMD: Should Clinton have continued campaigning after being diagnosed Friday?

Tsuang: Rest is a general recommendation for anybody who's afflicted with pneumonia, to give their body a chance to heal. Also taking in a lot of fluids and antibiotics. I usually leave it up to patients who have busy travel schedules, in terms of how they want to work in rest. But it's an important part of what we call supportive care.

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